Sunday, March 24, 2019

Messing about in boats

An Imperfect Life
Chapter 35
Messing about in boats


An Imperfect life


Chapter 35

Messing about in boats.

We picked up the boat from Maldon – in Essex, not New Maldon in Surrey.  Judy was a lovely wooden 2-berth sailing boat where one’s rear would meld safely to the wood whilst sailing– unlike today’s fibre glass monsters.  I loved the Black Water estuary rich in wildlife with its dramatic wide skies, estuary views and migrating birds.   There were lonely salt marshes, lovely creeks, mud flats and occasional views of the majestic Thames barges; flat-bottomed - which once ferried goods along the east coast to London.  As usual William became happy as Larry once on the boat and as the weather was kind I slung a mattress in the dinghy 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.  Fortunately some chaps anchored in a large sailing boat saw our plight and managed to catch us before we were swept past them. They pulled us aboard and we spent a jolly day with them until the tide took us back to Judy.  They told us of how they had been becalmed for days in the Doldrums and suddenly were delighted to hear the swish of water and thought hooray – at last they could get under way – only to discover it was Trudy- the only female member of the crew- washing her smalls.

  Things were going terribly well and then:-

“Let’s ask Wallace and Fleur down for the week-end.”  Much as I like William’s brother and sister in law it didn’t seem feasible.

“But William it’s a two berth - how are we going to sleep four people?”

“No problem! You and I will 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 had 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 Horrocks 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 ashore.  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 gorgeous hunks in thick polo necks and gum boots and we were having fun.

At about 7.30pm Fleur started to get twitchy.

“It’s almost supper time Pat – we need to get on doing the potatoes and so forth.”  My jaw hit the floor- we were all 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 – quite wisely - had brought for herself three fluffy blankets and a hottie.  The blankets on board 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. That was the plan.  I can’t remember what it was that prompted one of us to suggest it was time to make tracks and my goodness, the call

“Time Gentlemen Puleeze!” confirmed this.

Outside the pub the four of us looked out to our respective boats, ours and Harry’s which were now 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 at all.

  It was decided that I – with my bouffant ensemble should sit in the dinghy guarding the stores and clothes (Jean’s skirt and the men’s trousers – they had all stripped off with unusual alacrity) and Willy, Wally, Harry and Jean would push the boat through the thigh high mud until we had reached our respective boats.  Once ensconced in the boat I 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.  Minus the leeches thank goodness.  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 as we realised that Fleur would not be amused and had every right 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.  This would give him privacy to scramble into the wretched pipe cot whilst we disrobed on deck.  There was gentle snoring from Fleur as we crept aboard; in fact she was the only one who had a good night’s sleep proving there was 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 weekend 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 for each of us but we had to get up in order to drink it.  We all apologised to Fleur with lots of excuses re time and tide but we didn’t fool her for a moment and she knew full well that for the rest of the week-end she would rule and we would behave impeccably.

  Today we were going to venture out seawards and as time and tide were right the men decided we should 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 eggs 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 stuck me – in the early days - into a ‘useless blonde’ compartment.  And who can blame her?  Later – over the years - we came to appreciate each other and respect our differences.

  Fleur had no interest in sailing so 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.  Quite illuminating.  The adage ‘climb a mountain with someone if you really want to get to know them’ is equally true of sharing a small boat.

  Judy had no 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 – not such a rarity as one would thing 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 knew we would have 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 (zigzagging trying to find the wind) 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 is no time for such niceties.  The sea became very rough and we were tossed around mercilessly by the violence of the waves.  How bizarre I thought – here we are on the brink of disaster and a watery grave yet across the turbulent seas were the happy holiday makers of Clacton sunning themselves in deck chairs- oblivious to the life and death struggle taking place before them.  Life jackets?  What lifejackets?  This was the fifties before Health and Safety ruled.

  We didn’t drown, we didn’t die and we finally reached port – exhausted and chastened.  As Wally and Fleur tottered towards their car, shadows of their former selves and trailing the now sodden blankets I wondered if Fleur would ever take to the water again.  I wondered if I would ever take to the water again.  Fortunately for me – what with the sickness and all - the lemon meringue pie was never brought up.

  After a good night’s sleep  in our own bunks enthusiasm was restored and we convalesced exploring medieval Maldon, pottering round the salt marshes, relishing the birds and the terra cotta sails of the beautiful Thames barges.  By the end of the fortnight I could truly say that I had not been ‘bored witless.’