I have it in my ears. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if I still do, one week on. It’s another gorgeously summer-hinting morning this morning, but seven days back was a different story. In fact, that wet, windy, chilly Friday as we stood on the pontoon at Hamble Marina, we were all a little indignant that the scene was such a different story from the DAY before; Thursday last had been glorious. Still, at my sensible, can-do age you do rather look rotten weather in the teeth with a grin. Felt like a school trip.
As foolish a sense as this may turn out to be in future, it’s hard to imagine putting to sea as a relative new-comer in a safer pair of hands than those of our skipper for the weekend, Steve King. Something pastoral must kick in for him at the helm – along with a competitive imperative to have the best boat and crew in the Solent, I suspect. Whatever, it works. We felt safe, and acted safe. Which, ah… turned out to be a good thing.
Now, I’ve not earned my sea legs. A lifetime living on the coast has put me on the water strangely few times. Stranger too is the inexplicable thing that I spent five long years of my life on the UK’s biggest selling boating magazine; Valsheda may look beautiful in thirties sepier on my kitchen wall, but the kitchen floor doesn’t officially move. So I did feel that the ninth member of the crew might turn out to be the good Cardinal – Chunder, I mean of course. But thankfully, he didn’t actually visit – cast his shadow, but didn’t bunk down with us. Despite the very best efforts of Skipper and First Mate to serve us elaborately creamy, cheesy, sea-foody, Tesco Finest entrés and luncheons washed down with beer the whole weekend, while in the odd Force 8 squall, I enjoyed my food only the once. Just.
And yes, I did say Force 8. Bit blowy for the odd moment. The thing is, we may have spent Saturday setting our faces like flint to windward, beating up the Solent from Portsmouth to Yarmouth on our ear for much of it, but the UK’s favourite stretch of maritime playground is fairly forgiving in the chop department. I’m not saying we weren’t all terribly manly about the whole thing, but a real salty old dog would laugh quietly at our tales and nod knowingly into his pipe. ..Which, I’ve come to believe quite firmly, is also the universal Experienced Skipper’s sign for Oh Shit, We’re Really In Trouble Now. So you never know.
Thing is, I love the especially-British will to make yourself at home wherever you are. My theory, long-cherrished, that pizza is the ultimate universal food was borne out magnificently, somewhere off Cowes at 45°. I’d kept some from the meal the night before in Portsmouth and someone suggested we distribute it among the men. So, image to take to my grave, there we were passing around flapping slices of the stone-baked blessing, ice-cold in a wet headwind, like we were at a picnic. Morning, noon, night; hot, cold, luke warm; dry or wet – there is NEVER a wrong time for pizza.
Nope, it may have been a fun bit of blowing to sail in, producing the odd bruised shin, but it wasn’t proper scary. If we’d have forged out into the Channel that morning, and aimed to make for Yarmouth via the Horn of Ventnor, I think we might have had some interesting swell to contend with as well. Probably, machismo aside, the Solent’s weather was baptism enough for the first weekenders. Plus, we’d not have made it into the harbour with enough time for real ale in the rustic warmth of the local pub, shining its chunky-knit cosy reassurance out through the stormy night. Or for the Five Star Michelin experience in the cabin, prepared as little short of loving art by Mr Green and Mr King. Or for hoisting Robbie up the tallest mast in the harbour to retrieve a flailing halliard, hours into the fifth bottle of oaky red…
Actually, if you could have seen us round the table on board that night – and you were a girl – you’d have laughed. Just the right music, just the right wine, just the right combinations of flavours… I tried to picture our selection of other halves in the same situation and came to the instantaneous conclusion that the scene wouldn’t have been half so delicate and atmospheric. Steve was, I kid not, genuinely annoyed he’d ‘left the candles in Andy’s car’.
I was so proud of the boys that night.
In the event, we woke up to an unexpectedly stunning morning. Calm. Flat. Blue. Disappointed though we were to have erected a goose-wing sail configuration, with the express purpose of creaming downhill at warm nine, only to find we were more sort of adrift with a pretty work of canvas art overhead, the sunshine was a welcome warmth.
Three days wasn’t long enough. It comes down to who you share these things with, of course – a boat can be a miserable place very easily, and I felt lucky to have who I had around me. But, perhaps all weird experiences – such as working on a boating magazine without getting your feet wet – lead somewhere after all. Maybe.
As soon as I got in that Sunday evening, I emailed PBO to ask about a good RYA Competent Crew course…