I spent yesterday as a member of a family group of nine on board a sailing super yacht. We arrived at a well-known south coast marina at 11.00am as directed and were taken out for a three-hour trip into the Solent which included lunch. The only orders we were given were to remove our shoes and not to post anything on the internet which might reveal the identity of the yacht or its whereabouts – apparently, a security precaution that is regularly imposed upon private yacht guests.
My son Barry, the captain, suggested it, having cleared things with the owner. He and his crew need to do three or four days’ worth of repairs and trials whilst they also wait for a suitable ‘window of opportunity’ in the weather to make a run for a passage through the Bay of Biscay to Portugal.
I have visited the boat many times, but only whilst it was moored in a marina. Barry’s unique selling point on this occasion was that this was an opportunity for family members to actually go out in her – one that possibly might never arise again, not least because private yachts move from place to place exclusively at the whim of their owners.
There was another dimension to Barry’s invitation, I felt.
Years ago, when I worked in the media, I once went for lunch with a female news presenter and her boyfriend, with whom I had been at school. She chided me for not visiting the newsroom more often. I responded that I’d have loved to but, as a ‘suit’, I was always conscious that, when I pitched up everyone involved was under such pressure (for example, in the run-up to the 6 o’ clock news) that I felt like I was – worse than superfluous – actually in the way.
She denied this was so. “Those of us who work on the television shop floor always feel you guys are so remote. We’d love you to come down, so that you could see and understand what we do!”
The family all know and admire what Barry does, though we’ve never actually been on board a boat to see him do it at close hand. I felt that, apart from the obvious generosity behind his invitation, it also harboured an undercurrent of him wanting to show us what he actually did for his living. Or at least give us the opportunity.
We had all kitted up as if it was going to be cold and wet. However, in the event, it was a perfect day for going out on the water, albeit (as Barry pointed out) there was not enough wind for a boat of this size to go through its many sailing paces.
This was a terrific and rewarding day from all angles.
It’s one thing to set foot on board a boat of this size and style when she is moored.
It is quite another to be easing away from the quayside on the edge of the marina – she’s too big to fit into a regular mooring berth – and feeling the effects of the wind and tide upon the hull and the way that she responds to everything around her.
Being out in the Solent, standing or sitting on a deck that is a storey higher in the water than any of the other sailing yachts around us, watching her ‘go about’ and pick up the wind with such slickness – helped by power-assisted winches – and seeing a genoa sail (a special form of jib) being raised, costings 30,000 euros on its own, which can get ripped and rendered useless at any time in violent weather was worth the admission price alone, even though there wasn’t one.
We had a fantastic time. As we returned to the marina, past historic vessels HMS Warrior and HMS Victory and the soon to be scrapped aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (on a previous version of which my father served between 1945 and 1947), both spectators on shore and crews on other boats waved at us and we waved back.
As Barry manoeuvred us gingerly but with consummate assurance via a joystick system on his control desk – working in perfect concert with his crew – to moor up, two men from elsewhere in the marina suddenly materialised on the quay involved, simply to watch and admire. In awe, one of our number – who had never seen, let alone set foot on the boat before – said to nobody in particular “I just cannot believe what I’m seeing”.
This outing worked for everyone. Our group had a fabulous afternoon out on the Solent, as Barry suspected they might, and those who had not the slightest idea of what professional seamanship involves got something of an insider’s viewpoint.
Afterwards I got chatting to one of the two men who had come to the quay to watch our yacht come alongside and secure itself. He was a HM Customs & Excise man based in the marina who hailed from Northern Ireland.