William Byford attends a farewell meal
At some point this morning, probably not before 10.00am, my son Barry and his crew will be departing on board his super-yacht for a ten-day voyage to southern Portugal. They have been holed up in a Gosport marina for the past ten days awaiting a suitable weather ‘window of opportunity’ and today seems to be as good a moment as any.
Every day in this life we live and learn.
From September onwards, I now understand that the Bay of Biscay is a bit of a dog. Its peculiar qualities, combining the Atlantic shelf and traditional inclement autumn weather, can make it a formidable place.
Professional yachtsmanship is about respecting, not fearing, the sea and – having been watching the charts daily this past week – Barry has identified that position of the winds, areas of high and low pressure, depressions and half-dead hurricanes out west should now be in their favour. With the Bay of Biscay you don’t want to get caught close to the French coast in serious weather, which is why initially they’ll be heading 1,000 nautical miles out into the Atlantic. If a bad storm comes along they can then broad-reach in a south-easterly direction towards the Azores and away from the danger.
In a vessel their size even heavy storms are not a problem but by preference they are an experience to be endured only if necessary, rather than deliberately sought out. Ironically, one plus on this trip is that there will be no guests on board. Guests can tend to be a hindrance; they’re more likely to get sea-sick and frightened for one thing, and to make mistakes for another.
In contrast, a professional crew sailing on its own has a certain commonality of experience and understanding of the rhythms of living at sea – from the meal times and watches (usually four hours on, eight hours off, 24 hours per day) to the detailed mechanics of how to sail a yacht ploughing through the ocean – that swiftly evolves into a relaxed routine.
Yesterday the crew were completing a variety of preparations, not least taking on board three weeks’ worth of food, water and fuel, and eventually (as arranged) Barry called to indicate that he was now free to go for a ‘last night’ meal.
I jumped into my car and drove down to join him. Over an excellent dinner at a local hotel we talked about a wide range of things, but barely at all about today’s departure and trip.
That’s the strange thing about what Barry does for a living. Most other people work in a specific place (e.g. an office, hospital, surgery, court or factory) and for the most part travel there, have their meals – and eventually return to their homes and families – at roughly the same time of day. For Barry these fixtures are a moveable feast. He’s at work, or at least on call, 24 hours per day. His home is his workplace and, for the next ten days, on his decisions depend the lives of his five employees.
I make no fatherly case that people like Barry are in any way special. Having said that, I know I couldn’t do what he does for a living – well, not voluntarily.