The long trick really is over
Despite what others may say, giving up yacht ownership is not like losing your driving licence. Stepping back from captaincy is difficult to contemplate when command has been a natural role for decades.
‘When mooring lines slacken’ is hardly an original line but not one you’d find via Google search. Most poetry is personal and unpublished. The poetry of sailing, like the soft magic of a misty autumnal morning at Bucklers Hard, reflects private moments that are rarely shared. The tide has not yet turned. The waters are still, except for an occasional ripple. A bird or fish perhaps, or maybe a fluttering forest leaf, quietly navigates towards an end of season escape. The seasonal bonds between boats and crews, places, sunsets and sunrisings have been made once more to be burnished, broken and recycled.
Readers in throbbing far-flung places may not comprehend this quiet contemplation. Not so my Solent sailing shipmates as thoughts turn towards their winter lay-up. These ‘end of season’ misty moments of nature’s poetry will sustain many through long dark days until some new beginning.
Poetry and sailing have always been inseparable. For many a year one of the crew (or myself) has been designated as evening reader to share their selection from the onboard anthology. But my yachts’ anchor poem is not to be found in any published work. These lines survived many ends of seasons. They evolved onboard — an extended coda to many craft, many voyages, many crew departures, many layups, many harbours and anchorages in many countries.
When mooring lines slacken,
There’s only one snag,
We know, we’ll not sail again,
But we’ll hold to our memories, dreams, aspirations,
Remember where we began.
When did we ever do what we said we would do?
Only when we were not sure we could give or share anymore.
Our first family yacht was the aptly named Diabolo — a devilish Victorian game with string. Built from a 22ft plywood kit she boasted a lifting keel with a sticky mechanism and a (far too) variable-pitch propeller. Reg Spiers, original builder and first owner, taught me always to keep some string in my pocket. How well he knew that boat. It turned out to be vital advice when the port shroud bottle screw parted company as I rocketed on starboard tack towards the Southsea shore.
Next came Konspiracy — a bilge keel Westerly Konsort that, two owners later, is still moored in Weevil Creek. She was my first syndicate boat but four owners shrank to two and, except for a summer cruise to France or the Channel Islands, I had almost exclusive use. The pain of saying goodbye to Konspiracy was offset by an invitation to join John Anderson in the Elite syndicate and an adventure that eventually took us to Spain and then a memorable single-handed experience off Cap Finistère — but that’s another story.
The step up to a wonderful Oceanis 411 in Greece (another syndicate) was matched by a project to breathe new life into Theseus, an old Westerly Pageant, in Weevil Creek. When a project becomes a burden, when a yacht is idle for too long, when weed grows on the waterline, when decks are less than ship-shape and the anchor rusts, the game is up. Theseus and I parted company just in time to avoid a cardio setback that had been brewing awhile. I was tempted to replace her — but reality (and the NHS) kicked in.
So, at this end of season, I am reduced to a quarter share of Tessera — a brilliant yacht moored in Greece that I’ve only sailed once in the past two years. This year’s brief excursion was a post-op fitness test.
Despite what others may say, giving up yacht ownership is not at all like losing your driving licence — there were never any magical misty mornings on four wheels. Sure, I survived and enjoyed the voyage to warm islands and anchorages around the Northern Ionian but only with the benefit of a brilliant (and very agile) crew. Disaster almost struck when for a few days we couldn’t find the anthology — in my absence it had been stowed out of sight in a dark locker — but the string in my pocket came in handy.
My poem has a little string in it,
Not to tie the reader in knots,
Or make meanings difficult to untangle,
But to hang in your rigging
For comfort on a stormy night.
So now the mooring lines have slackened. My voyages from Weevil Creek have ended and the long trick is over. I doubt I’ll go down to seas again, even in Greece. But still we can hold to memories, dreams, aspirations, and try to remember where we began.
What was it I said I’d do when not sailing?