Earlier this year my elderly father joined a couple in his village [I shall call them ‘A’ and ‘B’ hereafter] in taking half-shares in a second hand catamaran 25-foot motor cruiser capable – at a considerable pinch – of sleeping four maximum, complete with a cabin, galley and toilet (or, in nautical parlance, ‘the heads’).
For years they used to have one-third shares in a smaller equivalent but my father had suggested they invest in something more comfortable. I suppose I could best describe the new vessel as being rather in the style of one of those Florida fishing boats used by the Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider characters in the Jaws movie.
A and B, who are able and experienced sailors and used to keep a 40-foot sailing cruiser in the Caribbean, have been at pains to point out that this was my father’s idea, even though they were more than happy to go along with it – they’d didn’t want my brothers and I to think that they’d taken advantage of him in his old age. In fact the thought hadn’t crossed our minds (it’s his money and he can do what he wants with it) and all this summer, when they were not using it themselves with their family and friends, they have taken my father out and about in Chichester harbour whenever this could be arranged, much to his enjoyment.
Recently, still feeling that they had received by far the better part of the deal, A and B had approached my father and generously suggested that they give my brothers and I a crash course in piloting the boat, with the intention of encouraging our families to use it more often for ourselves.
Yesterday I and one of my brothers drove to the coast for the purpose. The five of us – including A and B and my father – duly set off at 10.30am for a day on the water.
I have to salute A and B – they’d certainly spent time upon their preparation. A, an irreverent and amusing character in his early seventies, had drafted a comprehensive ‘Noddy guide’ of explanations, instructions and hints on how to operate the boat and his highly-organised wife B had produced a picnic luncheon for us to consume somewhere out in the harbour.
After going on board my father took up his preferred position on one of the two main seats whilst A took my brother and I on a tour of the boat’s engine and electrical systems, demonstrating the various vital matters to dealt with before embarking upon a voyage. One that had been achieved, B took us forward and showed us how to ‘cast off’ from the mooring buoy … and off we went, my brother and I taking turns at the helm and practising various manoeuvres including turning the boat upon its axis, going alongside a jetty at Chichester Marina, dropping the anchor, beaching upon a shore and finally picking up the mooring again.
In all yesterday we spent five hours out on the water and undoubtedly learned a great deal whilst also, via numerous mistakes caused by inexperience, gradually ‘mastering’ [I put the word deliberately in brackets] some of the fundamentals of controlling the boat.
Afterwards I conducted a personal review of my reactions to the expedition as I was driving home.
There are millions of people in Britain, and indeed around the world, who love ‘messing about in boats’. As an island race, I guess Britons have a stronger instinctive relationship with water and coastlines than most. It is why properties beside or overlooking water are at such a premium. Whether it is pottering around in an open putt-putt motorboat, racing in a dinghy, crossing the Channel in a sailing yacht or just cruising the Norwegian fiords on what is basically a floating city for a fortnight, there is an opportunity to suit every taste and depth of pocket.
I ‘get’ all that.
However, there are also a vast number of people who are just not into boats. Arguably, they’re costly to buy and even more expensive to maintain. Someone once described Admiral’s Cup yacht racing as akin to ‘standing in a freezing cold shower and tearing up £50 notes’ and there’s a degree of truth in that.
Furthermore, many for whom the money aspect of it is not a particular issue can think of a thousand things they’d rather do than spend their weekends sanding down the deck, re-painting the hull or re-designing the interior of their water-born pride and joy … just as there are similar hundreds of thousands who can think of nothing more satisfying.
Personally I seem to have had a foot in both camps. For the past fifty and more years I have been out in boats. I know the basics of how to sail a yacht and manoeuvre a motor boat. I am quite capable of enjoying an outing upon the water for its simple pleasures.
However, the bottom line of it is that I do not claim to be a devoted ‘yottie’ or water fanatic. I can take boating in any of its various forms or – just as likely, given the option – leave it.
As a young man I was a ball-games person and tended to take the attitude that people who took up such pastimes as sailing and rowing only did so because they were hopeless at real sports. Frankly, my attitude as a sixty-something is not that different.
That said, it is an eternal truth of life that most people can become passably proficient at most things if they apply themselves and persevere. I’m not quite saying that we all begin with the potential to be heart surgeons, concert pianists, Premiership footballers or chess masters … and then (well, most of us) spend our lives failing to excel at any of them … but, after yesterday’s experience out on the water, I did gain the impression that – if I kept at it – within a few weeks, or months, I could become acceptably proficient at skippering the motor cruiser concerned.
However – and here’s the rub – reflecting upon it overnight, I came to the view that it all boiled down to the key question “Has yesterday given you the taste for it and/or made you ambitious to put in the hours so that next year perhaps you could take the boat out regularly with friends and family and enjoy the whole experience of being out on the water?”
Not really. I still couldn’t give a bugger either way, to be perfectly honest.