Cream cheese and bowsprits…

Yes, we did move the bowsprit out of the hallway before our next b&b guests arrived though they probably wouldn’t have minded, being regular visitors and used to our odd ways (well trained enough to arrive with a bottle of wine in hand, as well – so nice when the line between clients and friends becomes blurred).  On the subject of bowsprits (for the last time, honest), I came across the following anecdote from my early sailing days.  I know this is just displacement activity to put off getting on with proper but more difficult tasks like writing the next book, but I hope you enjoy it, anyway;  it goes back to the days of my first foray into the wonderful world of the  traditional boat festival…

“Treading in an open pot of cream cheese at 3am is not a common nautical hazard, but at a French festival of sail nothing is unusual and it was to be, even by Brest standards, a very surprising week. 

Having decided to take my 24′ gaff cutter ‘Kitty’ to that mecca of sailing parties, the Brest Festival of Sail, I enlisted crew for the voyage down channel.   He stayed with me until the final stage but then had to return to work, so for the first few days I was alone on board.  Following instructions, I picked up a mooring and settled down with anticipation for 1000 other boats to arrive, many old friends among them.  Soon every mooring was full, and still the boats kept on coming, rafting two and three up until I was surrounded by Breton luggers.  They were all of a size with my own boat, but by design they were chunkier and a lot heavier.  I didn’t know if there was much of a tidal stream through the harbour, but if there was, what would happen at turn of tide?  Should I be worried?  Should I put out more fenders?   

Everyone else had gone ashore.  There was only one thing to do;  stop worrying and join the party.  After a dash of lipstick and a change into my least scruffy sailing smock I was standing on the foredeck flagging down a water taxi.

Several hours and several glasses of vin de table later, I had decided to adopt the laid back gallic approach to sailing and tried not to wince when the water taxi driver, who had also been on the vin de table, brought up alongside Kitty with a thud that set the fenders squealing.  Apart from anything else I was exhausted; not being the most intrepid of single handed sailors I had found the last few days quite challenging.  I fell into my bunk and into the deepest sleep since leaving Suffolk two weeks earlier.

Waking up was like being dragged up from a deep, deep well, but strange noises were echoing through Kitty’s hull and couldn’t be ignored.  I staggered on deck, trying to open two very reluctant eyes.  The harbour lights showed a logjam of boats, all pointing in different directions, with poor Kitty stuck fast in the middle.  The tide had turned or the wind had changed, and there had been no room for boats to swing to their moorings without getting into a tangle that would tax the imagination of the most inventive yachtmaster examiner.  Feeling helpless, I started to try and move fenders around to avoid damage, but fenders are designed for boats lying neatly alongside each other.   They are not particularly helpful when you’re surrounded by five boats all bumping against your topsides at different angles.  There was a bowsprit right across Kitty’s foredeck, its bobstay trying to saw a groove in my gunwale.  To port was a heavy transom, with a large raked rudder taking lumps out of my paintwork, while to starboard a squashed inflatable tender was the only thing keeping the bumpkin of a large yawl from scoring a direct hit through my porthole.  I stood on deck with a fender dangling, feeling slightly stupid.  My day skipper theory classes had spectacularly failed to equip me for this type of scenario. 

From one of my unwelcome neighbours came the sound of a hatch opening, and a sleepy skipper emerged, taking in the scene.   He looked at me, shrugged in way that only a Frenchman can, and disappeared back to his bunk.  I got the message.  When there’s nothing that can be done, do nothing.  I put the fenders down, gave the offending transom one last heave away from Kitty’s topsides and headed back to my bunk.  The pot of cream cheese was on my side deck, it was open, and my bare foot went right into it. How it got there, I will never know; I don’t even like cream cheese.  By the time I’d hopped into the cabin and cleaned up the mess, it was nearly 4am and I was desperate for more sleep. 

I woke at 8, lay in my bunk and listened.  All was quiet, but I needed to be very brave and have a look outside.  A gentle breeze was blowing, the sun was shining, and all the boats were lined up to their mooring buoys, facing the same way as if they had never even thought about doing anything else.  Only the open pot and a trail of cheesy footprints remained to remind me that anything had been amiss in the night.  Welcome to France!”

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