If in doubt, add cushions

Sailing involves many skills, some obvious, some less so. Even landlubbers will know that being around boats involves some or all of the following:

– pulling on ropes

–  getting from A to B without going aground at C

–  steering a straight course for hours on end clutching a mug of lukewarm tea, being blown at, splashed on and cold whilst pretending to have a marvellous time

–  fending off giant sea monsters with a plastic fender

(This pic is due to go in to the next issue of Marine Quarterly, by the way….I’m looking forward to reading the article that goes with it!)

But with a few notable exceptions boats spend more time in harbour than they do at sea, and there are more skills involved in boat handling than you ever get to hear about. I’ve been on board my small but perfectly formed gaff cutter ‘Ellen’ for a week now, at the cheap end of a tidal and very pretty river.  The weather has been appalling, putting paid to my fantasy of sitting in the cockpit watching the sun set over the saltings, supping g&t while the curlews call and the oystercatchers skitter over the mudbanks.  No, I’ve been hiding in the cabin with the hatches shut trying to get the stove to light with damp coal, learning which drips are condensation and which are deck leaks, and thinking unworthy, un-nautical thoughts of how nice houses are to live in.

(and this is one I’ve done for the third part of Julia Jones’ Strong Winds trilogy – of which more next time)

So, for anyone thinking of contemplating a spell of the simple life afloat watching the sun set, etc. etc, (what, nobody?  Shame on you!), here are some of the skills they don’t teach you at day skipper classes:

–  How to shower in the boatyard toilets without dropping your towel and/or underwear onto the wet concrete floor.

–  How to condense a wardrobe-full of clothes into two plastic crates.

–  How to remember which inaccessible locker you stored your spare pyjamas in

–  How to keep your hands clean in a cabin with a coal stove and no running water

–  How to face the day without your morning cuppa when the gas cylinder runs out at the worst possible moment

–  How to keep a bottle of white wine cool using a large damp sock (thanks to Alison Kidd for this tip)

–  How to avoid falling off the wobbliest bit of the pontoon when coming home late at night (a similar skill to avoid dropping handbag and/or keys in the water when stepping aboard).

It starts to make all the actual sailing stuff look easy – and there’ll be some of that when the weather improves.

Oh, and the cushions?  Essential for crew morale in small cabins in the rain – especially when you’re still researching the best corner to curl up in comfort with a kindle.

It’s alright, I lied about the sea monsters.


4 thoughts on “If in doubt, add cushions”

  1. Peter Dowden says:

    Are those pied oystercatchers? with carrotty noses? We get them here (New Zealand) too.

  2. David Botterill says:

    Hi Claudia, So jealous of that coal stove, I could have done with one of those in Charlie at Rudders this week.
    David and Anne (but not with me on Charlie!)

  3. Deirdre says:

    This blog post was months ago, but I have to contradict you on the fending off sea monsters part of sailing! I was boating on a river in southern Florida and had a water moccasin swim right by me and then drape itself on the stern (about two feet from where I was sitting!). Very much a serpent, and it did need fending off (with a spare paddle. And lots of yelling).

  4. Claudia says:

    I don’t know what a water moccasin is, Deirdre, but it sounds scary! I’ll look it up. There’s a lot to be said for sailing in chilly but monster free UK waters…

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