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Life on the ocean wave

Towards the end of last week I travelled to stay with my father at the coast for about ten days – part of the reason being to sail in an annual regatta which takes place in June. This year my father is celebrating his half-century as owner/skipper of his 21 feet (at the waterline) keel boat which is something of a local record. The boat in question was first designed in about 1908 and, though a sizeable proportion of boats in this class still racing are fifty years or more older, not many have been sailed that long by the same individual.

As with such things in many walks of life, this proud milestone is technically fudged to a degree. Although owner of the boat and registered as its skipper, due to age and infirmity my father has not actually skippered it for about four years. I have the honour to be that man, despite not (as the saying goes) ‘having salt water in my veins’.

As it happens I can claim to have sailed for over forty years, but again only in a technical sense.

In my experience, there are humans who are ‘wet bobs’ and there are humans who are ‘dry bobs’, just as there are human who play ball games and those that do not. In fact, in my general experience, these two sets tend to be conjoined – if that is the correct word. Those who play ball games generally do not partake seriously in water sports (e.g. sailing, rowing, windsurfing, kayaking or power boating) and those that love water sports tend not to be over-proficient at balls games.

Being a ball games player myself, I have tended to look down on those who are keen on water sports and therefore – through personal choice – would generally only sail on sufferance, if and as there was no opportunity to play ball games available. Given the stark choice of playing say cricket or spending the afternoon on the water messing about in boats, I’d pick the willow and red leather ball every time. In fact, given that very choice, if there was no cricket on offer, I’d probably have gone for a third option: i.e. rather than go sailing I’d actually have chosen to stay indoors, however glorious the weather, to watch ball sports on television.

But that’s just me.

All that said, I’m down this week to sail my father’s boat – that is, amongst helping him fulfil his other commitments – partly in order to supposedly ‘keep his sailing record going’.

So far so good.

This weekend is an opportunity to check the boat out. It’s been swinging on its mooring for about two months already, but for a variety of reasons there has been no opportunity yet this year to take it out for a sail and see if it is working in every manner it should, that the equipment is up to standard and not worn out – i.e. that it is just generally ‘fit for purpose’, which in this instance is to take part in daily races from Monday.

[This piece is beginning to read like one of the shaggy dog stories that Ronnie Corbett (one of The Two Ronnies) used to tell from his black leather chair in front of a studio television audience.]

Regular followers of my contributions to the Rust may be aware that my son Barry is a professional sailor and super yacht skipper who – through lack of opportunity due to pressure of work – rarely visits Britain.

However, on Tuesday last week he announced he would be flying to Stansted on Thursday lunchtime and returning to Portugal on Saturday evening on a short break. He had a number of meetings and objectives to achieve on this two and a half day expedition, one of which was to visit us at the coast.

I immediately enlisted him to go sailing with me in order to help with the ‘road testing’ of my father’s boat.

Yesterday he arrived at the coast at about 11.00am in a hire care, in convoy with a friend from Bristol that he has known since school and I had not seen in maybe five years. After a quick coffee – Barry was going to have to leave by 2.00pm in order to reach Stansted in time for his flight back to Portugal – we carried the sails and other relevant paraphernalia out to the jetty, hitched a ride out to the boat and began setting her up.

equipmentHaving done that (not without difficulty as some equipment was missing altogether and other equipment was not where it should be) we set sail and powered up the estuary and back again for an hour before returning to the mooring and coming ashore for an excellent barbeque lunch, straight after which Barry and his pal departed.

It had been a whirlwind visit. Out in Portugal, Barry had just returned from delivery a racing yacht to a regatta in Lisbon which was part of the Volvo Ocean (Round The World) Race. The boat he skippers is now nearing the end of its major refit and will be setting sail in July for its home in Palma, Mallorca. Asked by my father how things were, Barry had smiled and said “I’m tired …” – de facto, in the past four years he has rarely had the opportunity to take days off work and has only once managed five consecutive days’ holiday in one stint.


I’ve now got a list as long as my arm – dictated by Barry at speed – that I shall have to take to the local boatyard first thing on Monday to get ‘sorted’. In particular, the shrouds are completely useless and need replacing, a proper rigger needs to rig the boat (Barry would have done it yesterday but for the fact he was with us only three hours including our barbeque lunch) and various other items need replacing/installing before, in Barry’s view, the boat should be sailed in earnest.

I can sense that this week is going to get worse before it gets better …

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About William Byford

A partner in an international firm of loss adjusters, William is a keen blogger and member of the internet community. More Posts