For Cap'n Jimmy - proud skipper of Hope
I was working hard and my bank balance was growing. William had arranged for us to go on holiday, sailing in Judy - a small wooden boat. Two weeks of being able to slob around without make-up or stilettos. Lovely! We were both ready for a holiday. William had been settling into his job with BISRA and I’d been getting established in the modelling world. Two weeks with no housework and no pressure for either of us. Bliss!
We picked up the boat from Maldon (in Essex not New Maldon in Surrey). Judy was a lovely wooden two-berth sailing boat – as they were in the fifties. I loved those boats. Somehow one’s rear would meld safely to the wood when the boat heeled over - unlike the fibre glass boats of today.
As usual William became happy as Larry - once on the boat, and as the weather was kind I slung a mattress in the pram dinghy that we trailed behind us and read and sunbathed, enjoying the plop- plopping in William’s wake. Judy had to be anchored in deep water (she didn’t have a flat bottom) to maintain stability, and the pram was needed to row ashore. One day near West Mersea Island, we dropped anchor and rowed ashore to get some shopping. We hadn’t realised the strength of the tide and on the way back were rapidly swept past our boat and out to sea. Some chaps anchored in a large sailing boat saw our plight and managed to catch us before we were swept past them. They hoisted us aboard and we spent a jolly day with them until the tide took us safely back to Judy. They kept us amused with anecdotes; once they were becalmed for days in the Doldrums and suddenly were delighted to hear the swish of water and thought at last they could get under way – only to discover it was Trudy – the only female member of the crew - washing her smalls.
The holiday was going well and then William suggested inviting Wallace and Fleur – his brother and sister in law - down for the week-end.
‘But William it’s a two berth – how are we going to sleep four people?’
‘No problem! We’ll share one berth, Fleur can have the other and there is a pipe cot for’ard near the anchor chain. Wally will be quite happy there.’
To my amazement they accepted and said they would bring some stores and we would meet up in the pub. We’d also made friends with another sailing couple Harry and Jean so we looked forward to a jolly party. I have never knowingly been under–dressed and this night was no exception. I wore a halter-necked Horrock’s cotton in black, white and green with a bouffant skirt boosted by a scratchy, buckram petticoat. With my pale honey tan I felt like the Queen of Sheba - perched in the dinghy, as William rowed us to shore. True to form Wallace and Fleur arrived on the dot, we introduced everybody and settled down to a lovely boozy evening. The pub was full of handsome sailing types and I was having fun. At about seven thirty Fleur started to get twitchy. It was almost supper time she said, and we needed to get on, doing potatoes and so forth. My jaw hit the floor – we were having such a splendid time – the tales were getting wilder and wilder; why did we have to stop and think about potatoes? The men solved the problem. They would row Fleur out to Judy with most of the stores ( it wasn’t all food, Fleur had brought for herself three soft fluffy blankets and a hot water bottle – quite wisely – the blankets on the boat were congenitally damp and so rough, they left a red chafing rash round the chin.)
After a short while we would follow on with the rest of the stores and have supper. That was the plan. I can’t remember what it was that prompted one of us to suggest maybe it was time to make tracks and my goodness, the call,
‘Time Gentlemen Puleeze!’ confirmed this.
Outside the pub the five of us looked out to our respective boats, ours and Harry’s which were settled in a sea of black, soft, squelchy mud - the tide had gone out! Much further out we spotted Judy gently bobbing in the moonlight. I find at times like these it is politic to say nothing. It was decided that I, with my bouffant ensemble, should sit in the dinghy guarding the rest of the stores and the men’s trousers and Jean’s skirt (they had all stripped off with unusual alacrity) and William, Wallace, Harry and Jean would push the boat through the thigh- high mud until we reached our respective boats. Once ensconced in the boat I have to confess that the sight of the four of them in their Y fronts (Jean had big pants encasing her quite large thighs) caused me to giggle so hard I got hiccups. It was The African Queen all over again - without the leeches. I laughed so hard – well after all that drink you can guess what happened. Unfortunately I was sitting on Fleur’s lemon – meringue pie at the time. As we neared the boat our hysterical laughter died away and I realised that Fleur would not be amused and had every reason to be absolutely livid with us. After a whispered good night to Harry and Jean, we clambered aboard – William and Wally dripping the evil mud in their wake. Thinking on my feet I urged Wally to go below where, presumably, Fleur would be nestled in her pink fluffy blankets, clutching her hottie and, please God, asleep. We would allow him privacy to scramble into the wretched pipe cot, whilst we disrobed outside. Then we would sneak, silently, into our shared bunk, thus avoiding any unpleasantness. There was gentle snoring from Fleur as we crept below; in fact she was the only one who had a good night’s sleep proving that there is some justice in the world.
There was a bit of a popple on the water and a swell, so although there was to be no conjugal nonsense over the week-end I spent the night clinging for dear life to William to avoid falling out of the narrow bunk. Poor Wally had the wandering anchor chain for a bed fellow and didn’t sleep a wink. He was up at crack of dawn with a conciliatory mug of tea for Fleur and one each for us but we had to get up in order to drink it. We all apologised to Fleur with lots of excuses about time and tide but she knew full well that for the rest of the week-end she would rule and we would behave impeccably.
As the wind and tide were right the men decided we would set sail immediately and I would cook breakfast en route. The stove was on gimbals and I was a dab hand at cooking under way. Everybody enjoyed eating in the fresh air – whilst scudding through the waves, but Fleur objected to my doing bacon and egg AND tomatoes.
‘So extravagant Pat, and not at all necessary!’
Fleur hello! The war is over! I think she was quite cross that I could actually do something useful. She was such a competent and thrifty person she had stuck me into the useless blonde compartment. She had no interest whatsoever in sailing and it didn’t occur to Wally that I might like to man the tiller occasionally. So different to William who was the most generous of sailors and was always delighted to let me have a go. I found it quite illuminating. The adage climb a mountain with some one if you really want to get to know them is equally true of sharing a small boat.
Judy wasn’t a boat with mod cons. There was an enamel bowl for washes and a tin bucket of the bucket and chuck it variety. The etiquette was that the men went for’ard to pee and we girls were given a private bucket. Anything more complicated had to be dealt with ashore in the pub and it all worked perfectly well until we had that dodgy ice cream at Felixstowe.
Oddly, for a naval officer, Wally was often sea-sick – I was told it was not such a rarity in the navy. It was a glorious sail up the coast and we were in high spirits as we went ashore for lunch. The fish and chips were delectable and then came the fatal ice-cream. I don’t want to labour the point and list the gory details but the four of us - that week-end - reached a level of intimacy that can take years of married life to achieve. We didn’t linger in Felixstowe as we had a hard beat against the wind to return Fleur and Wally to where they had left their car. It would have been difficult enough tacking but with the onset of D and V it was sheer hell. To find which way the wind is blowing you have to stick a wet finger in the air and see which side dries first but when one is being violently sick there’s no time for such niceties. The sea became rough and we were tossed about mercilessly with the violence of the waves. At one period I thought how bizarre it was that we were on the brink of disaster and yet across the turbulent sea were the holiday makers at Clacton sunning themselves in deck chairs – oblivious to the life and death struggle unfolding before their eyes. Life jackets? What life jackets?
We didn’t drown, we didn’t die and we finally reached port - exhausted and chastened. As Wally and Fleur tottered towards their car, trailing the now sodden, non- fluffy blankets I wondered if Fleur would ever take to the water again. By the way, I almost forgot - what with the sickness and all, the lemon meringue pie wasn't mentioned. The rest of the holiday was an enjoyable convalescence, exploring medieval Maldon and pottering round the salt marshes, relishing the birds and glimpses of Thames barges with their terra cotta sails. By the end of the fortnight I was eager to get back to the phone and see what Paula had in store.
An edited version of an earlier post.