Mrs Relentlessly Cheerful wore her broadest grin. ‘Sleep well?’ Her head tipped from top to bottom in that nodding motion employed by amateur psychologists which is supposed to get you to nod in agreement. Her tussled blonde nordic hair curled fetchingly round her face without benefit of hairbrush. Her face was no longer the luminous green of ‘experienced sailors’, now a pleasing pink from fresh air and sea spray. Her Musto sailing gear was attractively tailored.
Ms Raccoon, whose own ‘Brillo pad on steroids’ now sat atop her head like an angry lavatory brush, whose cute little button nose was a painful blistering bulbous red, lay there and contemplated another day in the Paddington Bear outfit – and rebelled. ‘Er, no actually – haven’t slept – think I might have bitten off more than I can chew – and thinking of calling it a day when we get to Holland’, I said in my best ‘don’t care if you care or not’ voice.
She was appalled! You mean I wasn’t having fun? (I’ve had more fun at a funeral). ‘B-b-but today’s the day you get to climb the rigging’, she said. I think the misguided fool thought this was a form of encouragement – she had overestimated me. We were definitely not on the same wave length when it came to ‘fun’.
In fairness, she spent the next two hours expertly working on me. She hugged me, she produced tea, she checked the weather forecasts (initially ‘more of the same’ the message came back from the dour Captain), she explained the onerous paperwork the Captain would be involved in if I jumped ship (like I cared) and the extreme hardship that would be encountered getting myself back to Norwich from this unpronounceable Dutch destination; she did and said everything she could think of – and by the time she had run out of enthusiasm for ‘turning’ this mutineer (did she ever?) a miracle had occurred. We had moved into the lee of the land, the sun peeped out from behind the clouds for a split second, and – ding! dong! Avon calling! – the order went out over the tannoy – ‘all hands on deck’.
We were going to hoist sail. Mrs Relentlessly Cheerful was in her element. This lass knew her T’gallants from her Royals, her Yards from her Booms, and her Mizzen from her Flying Jib. The ‘BM is putting up the Spanker’ she exclaimed in delight – I looked suitably impressed…at least, I hope I did. ‘Oh, I do hope you’ll stay, its such fun’ she said. She was a great girl, and hopefully we’ll meet again – probably manacled to the floor of the guards van on the Kettering to Cardiff run, she’d enjoy that.
I pointed my own unerring compass in the direction of the tea-urn, acquired a cup of lukewarm weak tea, hoisted myself up onto a life-raft station, and puffed furiously on my e-cigarette. ‘Smoking only allowed on the lee-side’ said one of the ex-Royal Navy types. ‘Get stuffed’ I mouthed over the wind.
The next two hours was extremely pleasant under sail. (Bear in mind I was on this tub for almost a week!) My jeans dried out in the sun; I pulled ropes furiously under instructions. We bolted breakfast in double quick time on account of there only being 9 empty seats in the upper mess, and 7 officers and permanent crew were waiting for their breakfast….yes, I can count too. ‘Not with the oiks‘ I guess. We practised the evacuation drill, especially for the wheel chair users who might be marooned below deck in the event of no power – they required more rope hauling.
The trouble with my contrarian mind is that I always search for the other side of the equation – if you’ve been on duty for two months, if you have total responsibility for the safety of a cargo of lemons, you probably don’t want to chat pleasantly over breakfast.
An evacuation drill does require all hands at their correct muster station – but one of those hands was undressed, in bed, minus prosthetics, had been sea sick for two days with attendant loss of essential medication, and more to the point was a frail 86 years old… his ex-military mates, equally in wheelchairs. hollered in vain from the top of the gang plank – ‘leave old Bill in bed, haul me up twice, one occupied wheelchair is the same as another’ but orders from the captain is orders from the captain, and you don’t get cheap sailing to Hobart by disobeying orders. We learnt from a disgruntled volunteer crew member that somebody had died two weeks beforehand – (the chef’s veg locker on deck apparently…it’s coffin sized. I wondered too). You’ll be glad to hear that old Bill managed to dodge the veg locker, he’s now safely on his way back to Kent. He lives alone, in a wheelchair for many years, and told me that for all the tribulations on board, it was worth it to hear the sound of human voices all day every day. Even feeble ones crying out in the darkness ‘could somebody pass me another sick bag please’. Nothing like the military sense of humour. We finally docked in Holland. Of course the Lord Nelson hasn’t got bow thrusters. I’ll leave that one for the sailors to figure out. We hadn’t actually been told that we were going to Holland when we signed up, just that we would require a passport, presumably to leave and enter British territorial waters. Amazingly we had some 11 euros between 30 of us when we emptied our pockets, and a whole free day in Holland. I volunteered to take a walk, OK, I got onto to dry land as fast as possible, dodging the Hell’s Angel who arrived on a Harley Davidson and in a neat bit of marketing, proceeded to roll an enormous joint whilst stationed at the bottom of the gang plank – we got the message.
I walked, hopped, swayed, stumbled, for the best part of a mile through industrial fish packing stations – still no sign of a cash point. Inquiries showed that there was still another mile to go before I would find one. That game of Ludo came to mind again. The inquires also showed up that there was a first class restaurant hidden amongst the warehouses that would accept my debit card and less than 100 yards from where the ship had docked. I really didn’t care how much it cost.
A motley band of wheelchairs, walking zombies, ‘buddies’ and carers, set off over the cobbles to catch two buses and a tram in order to find the cash point and lunch – praying that the 11 euros would achieve this. They had a dickens of a day, Holland is not the most wheelchair friendly environment and certainly not in the vicinity of the docks. Meanwhile, Ms Raccoon had alerted a fellow ‘mutineer’ to the presence of this restaurant. ‘Sod it, let’s go’ he said.
It was, without a doubt, the best fish restaurant I have ever been to. I’m going to take Mr G back there – beats anything in France. Mind you, I’ve also ascertained that we can travel in the most expensive ‘captain’s suite’ back and forth across the North Sea in a bloody great ferry with stabilisers and everything, for a third of the price of the Lord Nelson…
We had a magnificent lunch, and an equally magnificent bottle of Chardonnay, in wonderful surroundings, and excellent company. 35 euros for the two of us! People smiled at us, and we mellowed. Neither of us had been expecting anything like that on board, but it was great to get away from the ‘borstal camp for truculent teenage boys’ atmosphere on board. We glanced round the restaurant, glad we hadn’t accompanied the intrepid hordes on the route march to the Hague and Macdonalds. Guess what we saw? A table laid for twelve in a sunlit window. Guess who trooped in to occupy it? Yes, the bloody crew. Ask us to join them? Paying oiks? Perish the thought.
The captain had changed his plans by now, and we left that afternoon, ready to motor back across the North Sea in conditions marginally better than before, but ahead of an even worse storm. We anchored the next night off Dunwich beach – the last place I ever spent a night under the same roof as my parents, near 60 years beforehand. I felt positively emotional, wondering if the churchyard still gave up its ancient bones after every storm washed away a little more of it, and whether anyone would ever let a nine year old girl camp out alone, under canvas, in the sand dunes again….I hadn’t expected that trip down memory lane.
We did put up half sail again the next morning, but still motored towards Great Yarmouth and a new earlier rendezvous with the Yarmouth pilot. The grey sky drizzled water, but the jack-up rigs at Yarmouth could be seen through the fog – wonderful sight, and I finally understand why Mr G is so fond of them. Home! I’ve got myself into some dire situations over the years, but never anything I had so profoundly regretted as this.
I baled out as soon as we berthed at Yarmouth, as did the other ‘mutineers’ as we called ourselves. (When the lifeboat called to see us, out of interest, off Dunwich, one had tried to bribe the lifeboatmen with £100 to take him ashore – he could see his house, his nice hot bath, his bottle of wine, from where we were moored…) Everybody else had to be off the ship by Saturday morning. Why? Well, a reception was being held for the ‘generous Trustees’ of the charity on the Saturday night. Everything had to be shipshape to receive them.
Naturally, Ms Raccoon has been ferreting away to see what she can find about these Trustees. In fairness, none of them take a salary for their Trusteeship. I was pleasantly surprised. Still interesting to see how these things work though. Some 20 of us had paid £20,000 collectively to motor across the North Sea. Fair enough, we’d been fed as best you can be when you work in a kitchen that is turning through 180 degrees every few minutes. One plate gets the egg yolk, the next one the egg white….
Whereas, Jacquetta Cator who was married to the Vice-Chairman of the merchant bankers Schroder Wagg & Co, takes over the £850,000 loan previously granted by Barclays Private Bank – and reissues it to the Jubilee Sailing Trust, charging them £9,996 in interest a year, and that is ‘doing good works’ for which the Trust are ‘incredibly grateful’…and the ship gets cleared of messy oiks so that a reception can be given for her.
I’ll get the hang of this charity business one day – don’t give them money, lend them money.
For all that, it is hard to think of how they could do things any differently; given the constraints of time, tide, and disabilities. Yet they need to – the business model needs people like me and my fellow mutineers to come away saying how wonderful it all was and persuade our friends to give it a go.
They offered me a virtually free trip down to Southampton – they had too many ‘disabled’ booked, and not enough paying punters to help look after them. By then, I’d learnt some salty language in my time at sea. I used it.