No we didnât put the sails up.Â You canât put up the sails when the wind is coming from the opposite direction to the one you have a pre-arranged appointment with â the wind would just blow you backwards. So you motor towards your pre- arranged, months ago, destination. Now the trouble with motoring into a head on wind, is that you hit all the waves head on. Up one side, down the other….all the while continuing to roll from side to side like a bankerâs desk toy.
This curious motion had an unexpected effect on those on board. Yes, even the â22 years in the Royal Navyâ and âdone the Hobart to Brisbaneâ types. As the waves crashed over the bows, they all had their heads stuck in a paper bag.
Our plucky craft now resembled nothing more than an episode of âDeadliest Catchâ crossed with the local Chemotherapy ward. Vast fishing boats skinning the North Sea of the last known Cod fish passed us with flocks of white sea gulls in their wake â we went in the opposite direction with a flock of white sick bags following us. I kid you not â three quarters of those on board were giving the âtwo-six-HEAVEâ order new meaning and naâer a rope in sight. Even the nurse. Who had the sole responsibility of making sure that those who had been put to bed without their prosthetic leg had a suitable supply and disposal service for the sick bags that they had no way of getting to unaided. After several years service on board this craft she was heard to mutter to anyone who would listen that never, ever, ever, again was she going to do more than âday sailingâ on it â and she had never been sea-sick before.
Now Ms Raccoon, showing that breathtaking resilience you have grown to expect of her, was never sick, never even took one of the sea sickness pills that were by that time being handed out like Smarties. Some people just have the extra special something, and can I help it if I am one of them? This proved to have its disadvantages, since running the ship was now down to the dozen or so souls that could peel their heads off their pillows.
Tâwas thus that on a braw wee night, in the icy depth of the witching hour, she found herself on the bridge, in the company of our Relentlessly Cheerful watch leader, another five foot tall âhopefulâ future watch leader, and a diamond of an old Royal Navy man in a wheelchair fastened to the Port side. Ms Raccoon was delighted to be fastened to the starboard side with orders to watch out for marauding fridge freezers that might attack us. Ms Five Foot did a magnificent job at the helm, putting us back on track after every wave knocked us sideways â no easy task. After an hour we all swapped positions, in order that we could experience freezing the other side of our collywobbles. They were very keen on us experiencing every aspect of âsailingâ. Especially at 4am.
Above the howl of the wind, the crash of the non-authentic stainless steel rigging and the roar of the engine, a faint voice could be heard crying âMs Raccoo-o-onâ. Naturally I leapt to attention; well, as fast as my Paddington Bear outfit would allow, more of a doubled-up âattentionâ actually, since I had forgotten to undo the carabiner, and I answered âYes Maâam, O Glorious Watch Leaderâ.
âCould you come and take the Helm please?â
This was not music to my frozen ears, since I was the one who had missed the âHelm handling briefingâ the day before, on account of being fully occupied cleaning the Heads along with a disgruntled putative author who had paid Â£1,000 to get an idea of how rigging worked for his next historical novel. Instead of which, he is now an expert on cleaning Heads that have had 42 people throwing up in them, which is bound to come in terrifically handy some time.
âI really donât have a clue what to doâ said I. âDonâtâ worryâ said Mrs Relentlessly Cheerful, who looked a trifle peaky, now I come to think about it. âIâll tell you what to doâ.
âWhat you do is…..â .
Oi! Where the fu*k dâshe go? âCome back Missus!â âWhat you do is âWHATâ?â
Sheâd vanished! Gone. Vamoosed. There was just me, the helm, the pitch darkness, the stars. All very romantic, but since we were in the middle of one of the most crowded shipping lanes in the world, the silence was enough to ruffle the fur of even a Raccoon. I couldnât see the man in a
wheelchair four foot below me, come to that I couldnât see Ms Five Foot below me on account of her being sat down…..and I definitely couldnât see Mrs Relentlessly Cheerful, the experienced sailor.
She hadnât even told me what course I was supposed to be keeping this blasted ship on, assuming I could have figured out how to do that. Obviously I followed the old Army adage, which I figured would work just as well at sea â âWhen in doubt, do nowtâ.
As it happens, she wasnât enjoying her separation from me any more than I was, for it transpired that the poor girl was on hands and knees behind me, throwing up for the eighth time in succession, completely unable to speak, and well aware that she had just put a complete dickhead in charge of the precious Lord Nelson. Fortunately, alarms were going off somewhere in the bowels of the officer class accommodation, on account of us now taking the waves on sideways, and something in uniform with bags of experience (like âknew the difference between port and starboardâ) came racing up onto the bridge and took over. Phew! Youâll never make a Robin Knox Johnston out of a Raccoon â still you get a blog post out of it, and Mrs Relentlessly Cheerful will dine out for a few years on the tale.
That watch came to an end. Eventually. And I stumbled below decks in the gloom of the emergency lighting, swinging from rail to rail, crashing into wheelchairs parked for the night and feeling my way past fire extinguishers and all manner of shin combatants, to my very own little berth next to the anchor locker. I rolled from side to side as I removed the layers of yellow plastic; I crashed head first into the berth above as I balanced on one foot to remove the sea boots; until finally I was in a suitable sartorial state to tackle the Head, so close to my berth. It bore a sign saying âDo not useâ. A voice in the gloom, watching my progress, said âItâs broken, and they donât want to wake the engineer til the morningâ…
I reflected on the engineerâs beauty sleep as I made my way, now without protective clothing or steel capped boots, the length of the boat to the âdisabledâ Head. I canât tell you what the objects were that I met in the rolling, bucking, dark, only that they were sharp and unyielding; and that I met them all again on the way back to my berth. And yet again two hours later, thanks to those cautious French surgeons and my redesigned plumbing system. And again on the way back. And yet again, two hours later. I swear they moved each time. No matter how I tried to memorise their position; they lay in wait for me. If Iâd known where that engineer slept, Iâd have given him âbeauty sleepâ.
You may have gathered by now, that Ms Raccoonâs fabled even temperament, endless patience, and calm, placid, nature was slipping, ever so slightly, notch by relentless notch. I was all out of masochism. Not a drop left. Something about âa game of Ludoâ came to mind as I rolled from unyielding steel side to wooden side of my bunk and back again.
A plan was formulating.
Should we ever reach Holland, and that didnât seem a certainty, but should we…I would somehow set foot on dry land again, and never look back. We were pointing our bow at Scheveningen, a place Iâd never heard of nor shown the slightest inclination to visit. However, I was prepared to give Scheveningen a chance; it must have roads, maybe even a rail track, perhaps trains, oh glorious objects. Whatever it possessed, it was surely preferable to entrusting the remainder of my life to my present travel arrangements. Who knows, they might even have the sort of toilet you can use without undressing whilst holding onto the ceiling light bulb? So? Iâm pushing 70, Iâm getting very stuck in my ways. Say what you want.
However, what you âorrible lot would say was very much on my mind. How I cursed my big mouth telling you I was undertaking this adventure. Had you not known, I could have slunk away, never having to admit that I had chickened out of something. The thought tormented me. Ms Raccoon never admits failure, that was the personality I had carved out on line, what would the anonymous hordes say?
I didnât bloody well care. I fell asleep dreaming of fast trains and big, safe, Harwich ferries with stabilisers, and crew that said âWelcome aboardâ, and âI hope you have a pleasant passageâ. Maybe planes? Schiphol, that was it, Schiphol â direct flight to Norwich!!!
I awoke a brief hour later with Mrs Relentlessly Cheerful standing over me…