Thursday, April 26, 2007


Boat building is full of surprises. The biggest surprise is when the boat is finished! You don’t ever expect the time to come when you look around and there is nothing left to do, but sure enough if you persevere until the end, there she is sparkling in radiant new colours, the varnish is gleaming and she’s pristine. She looks at you and says “Well. Why are you waiting? Get me in the water now, because that’s where I am meant to be.” She adds, “That’s my destiny – adventures galore, excitement and fun, besides those horrible times when nothing goes well, the wind is contrary, it rains and the Cornflakes get spilt in the bilge.” But you know every nail, every plank and remember how strongly you built her. She’s not going to fall apart and she’s ready for any gale, while you optimistically hope for fair winds and fine weather. Lazy days are what you want; sailing with ease, a soldier’s wind and beauty in the sky and sea. When you arrive at harbour after a gorgeous day you step ashore and savour those fish and chips, Cornish pasties, Indian take-away. Life’s never been so good, although you’re in your seventies, feeling like sixteen.

Cruising is full of surprises. You plan your day, but other forces are at work. There’s the unexpected delay leaving Ramsgate harbour because the Ostend ferry is due in. Outside in the offing there’s a choppy sea over the banks and the speed you expected is not there. The wind changes direction so you’re left in the lee of the White Cliffs of Broadstairs and all this makes your ETA impossible, so the ebb tide joins in your adversity. Darkness arrives when you should be snug in Dover Harbour and ahead are all those Channel Ferries coming and going. Permission to enter the Harbour is delayed and you converse with the Harbour Control saying you have no engine; you’ll need to get in under yuloh power because there is no wind. “Stay where you are. Hold your station. The Harbour Control launch will tow you in.” You struggle at the yuloh as sweat pours off you brow to hold firm against the current. Those lights in transit are gradually slipping. There’s a sigh of relief as you spot the black shape of the launch with her red and white pilot lights. Then in seconds a line is brought through your bow fairlead and passed around the mast. You’re away like lightning while the bow wave foams. When you are two cables from the Town Beach you are cast adrift and you set your anchor with ample scope for the expected rise of tide. The crackling voice of the Pilot over the VHF informs you the charge for the tow was £20.00. You take solace by swigging a glass of fruit juice and set about preparing a late night meal.

It was a day of surprises, and may there be many more of them for those who love the sea and boats.