“BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS, IF NOT DUFFERS, WON’T DROWN.”
It was about 9am when I started to feel drunk. Which, considering the timescale of the day, was no great surprise.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Are you settled? Then I shall begin.
Our adventure began, as all great adventures do, unexpectedly. Saturday night drinks in Hamble turned into Saturday night drinks on the yacht in Hamble (I keep calling it a boat but I get corrected every time). Due to the open air nature of this yacht, an early morning awakening was inevitable. But on this occasion I didn’t mind; I was on the river Hamble, in last night’s bikini and it was hot, even at 7am.
“We’re going sailing,” announced my friend grandly as he stood up and stretched. “Sailing where?” I enquired. He shrugged, “Anywhere.” And so it was that we sailed off to Anywhere (otherwise known as Cowes).
We literally sailed off the pontoon rather than using the motor, which I rapidly learned is a bit like taking cheat notes into a maths exam if you’re sailing for the day. It meant that we didn’t get anywhere quickly, but it also meant that we could be smug and yell “Motor W***ers!” at passing boats. As if…..
I pointed to a digital display in the cockpit, “What’s this?”
“The depth meter. It’s 7.5m now and anything below 0.2 is risky territory.”
Seeing as it was 7:15am, Luke bent down, opened his rucksack and removed a bottle of rum. Not wanting to seem like a total novice, I pretended that I was a true sailor and accepted the bottle for my turn to swig nonchalantly. Time and time again. I could describe the journey over but suffice to say that we arrived in Cowes at about 11am, very giggly, none too steady on our feet and the bottle was empty. Our (sober) boat neighbours watched us negotiate our way out of the yacht disapprovingly.
“Do you have life jackets?” one enquired.
“No!” replied Luke, cheerfully. At this stage he didn’t even have a t-shirt on.
“A life raft?”
“That’s very unsafe,” he frowned. “We always – ”
“How long have you been sailing here Luke?” I interrupted.
“About twenty years. Come on.”
We exited the pontoon unsteadily and for some reason we decided that the best place we could go to was the pub. Whereupon we met our very best friends in the whole world. We expressed pure shock and sorrow that we had never met them before and pledged undying love from this minute – nay, this SECOND – onwards.
We spent two hours with our new family members before Luke took a deep breath, lay down on the bench and said “Ask me anything you want to now because I’m going to sleep.”
“What?! No!” I cried and shook him, “Stay awake!” He sat up. “Go and get some Prosecco,” he said decisively. “We’ll take it back to the boat.” Obediently, I went to fetch Prosecco but when I returned, he had disappeared.
“Where’s he gone?” I enquired, and was met with blank stares, “Who?” Brilliant.
I made my way back to the marina and swiftly discovered that I had absolutely no idea where the yacht was. They all look the same to me. Up and down I went, back and forth, gradually feeling the knowledge that I was stranded dawning upon me. I needed to get back across the Solent! I came to rest at the end of a pontoon.
“Are you ok?” enquired a foreign man next to me.
“No,” I grumbled. “I’m stuck here.” And I repeated my sorry tale.
“Well I can get you back,” he said, “that’s no problem.” But at this point the Chinese people on his boat, who had chartered it I guessed, starting muttering unhappily and casting their rods further out into the marina.
“Tell you what,” he said kindly. “I’ll help you find your boat.” Excellent. So off we went and to my great surprise it was about 200 yards away. And joy of joys, there was Luke in the saloon. Asleep.
The nice foreign man nudged him awake and reminded him of his principle (only) role as the sole person who was capable of sailing back across the sea, but by this point I was firmly ensconced in Swallows-and-Amazons-land. Sail a boat singlehandedly? Of course! Winch the mainsail? Of course! Normally, you see, the only thing spinnaker means to me is the tower. Unfortunately I’d been given the job of making the boat go straight and during these musings I’d been pushing the boat (yacht!) round and round in circles. Eventually Luke noticed and steered us out into the Solent, whereupon his first question was “Where’s the Prosecco?”
Almost immediately, things got hairy. We turned into hypocrites and started the motor to help us get home. It coughed, spluttered, coughed a bit again and then died.
“Oh,” said Luke. “I thought I’d mended it.”
After that, the sun disappeared, it got very squally and the ensuing minutes were probably quite dangerous. Happily, we’d had so much rum that it didn’t really register. We nearly crashed. We sailed the wrong way for quite some substantial period of time until I happened to notice the Needles looming large in front of us (for those not acquainted with the Solent, the Needles is probably the very last place you’d want to be). Luke spent a long time sitting on the foredeck, peering at the sails as they flapped about the place whilst I attempted to stop the boat from capsizing. The sea was very rough and salty seawater sprayed over me, the boat, our clothes, the wine……It was about this point when I looked at the depth meter.
“Luke? It says we’re down to 1.2m.”
“What?!” he turned and scrambled down to me none too graciously and actually fell on top of me momentarily. Which was painful.
“Bugger, I’ve miscalculated where we are. Prepare to run aground!” he shouted above the wind and the sea. It was all quite dramatic as the little yacht was tossed around on the waves and I felt very gung-ho and brave about it all. Out in the Solent, battling with the elements, quite, quite alone, miles from safety. And then I looked the other way and saw that Portsmouth was basically within touching distance.
The depth meter dropped again to 1m which nearly had Luke in spasms. But I could see the land, I reasoned, and therefore I could swim to it.
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said casually, fortified by several pints of rum, “we’ll be fine!”
Eventually, a partly broken yacht, a shaken Luke and a very relaxed me sailed safely back into the river Hamble. Well I say safely, but I’d broken my foot and we’d lost the Prosecco. We hadn’t drowned, I reasoned, so at least we weren’t duffers.
As we calmed down I began to realise just how battered I felt. I am not used to winching (or whatever it’s called) large sails in by myself and my entire, sea-salted, body ached viciously. My only thoughts were of home, bed and tea.
“Let’s go to Hamble,” Luke announced, steering the yacht towards a boat parking space. “Few drinks in Hamble?”
“But……”, I said weakly. And then capitulated. “But of course.” I galvanised myself and we got off the yacht and walked on unsteady sea legs to the King and Queen pub (which, by the way, is just about my favourite pub in the world) and it was there that my friend came down to meet us.
“Have you had a nice time?” she enquired. I thought about it. “I’m not sure,” I said. “Define nice time.”
Answers on a postcard please