Tony had been planning this trip for ages. He was always regaling us with stories of his sailing exploits, which we all listened to with mild interest. The women in our lives had successfully completed at least three ‘girls’ weekends away’, whilst the ‘boys’ hadn’t managed to organise anything, as usual. Until now, with Tony organising a sailing weekend for all four of us – that would be me, The Sexton, Steeley the Tinkers’ Friend and Tony.
What you have to bear in mind is the diversity of all four characters. Tony is ultra organised and although I wouldn’t like to say he has OCD, he has OCD. Holidaying with me and two other similarly minded men, i.e. not OCD, would be a challenge for him.
The plan was to sail from Dartmouth to Salcombe, stay in a bed and breakfast and sail back the following day. The boat would have a skipper and we would travel on it as ‘crew’. Tony saw this as a great way to show off his sailing skills. We saw it as a great way to take the piss out of each other.
Upon arriving in Dartmouth, we started to unload our luggage onto the jetty next to the sailing boat before the captain arrived. Tony had a leatherette attaché case, which he carefully placed in the boat’s cockpit.
“Wassat?” asked The Sexton, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh just some charts and maps, in case we need them,” replied Tony, smiling hopefully. The Sexton gave him a rueful look.
“All we need is a bloody pub guide,” he murmured, eyeing the cans of beer on the jetty.
Oh yes, the beer. This trip took place over ten years ago, at the height of my professional drinking days. My luggage consisted of a small holdall, two slabs of bitter from Bargain Booze and a bottle of Jameson Irish whisky to take the chill off. It was early May, after all.
Tony peered at the alcoholic stash. The Sexton had duplicated my luggage.
“Erm… you can’t drink on the boat,” Tony told us.
His comment was met with an icy silence.
“Yes we fucking can,” said The Sexton, furrowing his eyebrows. Steeley giggled.
“Good luck with that one,” he chuckled.
The captain arrived, a man with thinning grey hair, tanned complexion and a wiry frame.
“Morning gentlemen,” he said, rather formally.
“Aye aye, captain!” I chirruped.
“Avast there!” shouted The Sexton.
“Ah, good morning, I’m Tony”, said Tony, shaking the captains hand.
“I’ve done a bit of sailing in my time, so should be of some use, but I’m not sure about these three,” he continued, waving his hand at The Sexton, Steeley and me.
The captain surveyed all of us, before glancing at the huge stash of booze on the quayside.
“There will be no drinking on my vessel,” he said in a stern voice.
“Oh yes there fucking will,” said The Sexton, in a sterner reply.
The captain blinked several times before deciding not to pursue this particular argument.
Eventually, with all luggage, including 4 slabs of beer, one bottle of whisky, half a bottle of vodka and a bottle of rum being loaded onto the sailing boat, we were briefed by Colin, our captain.
“Now, let’s follow some simple health and safety rules,” he explained.
“Keep yourself clipped onto the boat at all times, using the rope and clip attached to your vest. Follow all my orders and do exactly as I say. We don’t want anybody overboard, do we? Understand?”
He paused a moment. Steeley spoke up.
“Can I skipper the boat for a while?” he asked enthusiastically. Steeley had always imagined himself to be a bit of a salty sea dog.
“I can’t see why not,” said Colin, who would later find out why not.
And so, we set off.
“Untie the ropes! Ease off from the jetty! You! Turn the handle clockwise and unfurl the mainsail!” Colin the captain barked at The Sexton. The Sexton gave him a level look.
“I’m on holiday, don’t order me about,” he said menacingly.
Colin gave a nervous laugh, not sure whether The Sexton was joking or not. He wasn’t, but did reluctantly follow instructions when given.
Out of the bay, things turned ugly. The wind was against us. The tide was against us. Everything was against us. Steeley and I made our way to the pointy end of the boat. Just to let you know, I’m absolutely terrified of the sea and this was it at its worst. I carefully unclipped and clipped myself to the thin rope running along the boat, whilst Steeley nonchalantly braced himself against the mainsail and made a call on his mobile. The wind was screaming as the pointy end (prow) of the boat disappeared into the boiling waves before being thrown back up and out, depositing gallons of seawater into our faces. Steeley shouted into his mobile.
“Yes, it’s marvellous,” he crowed,”I may buy a boat of my own, fantastic experience…”
He stopped talking for a moment to observe me. As I had clipped myself a millimetre closer to the cockpit, my feet had slipped on the slick surface of the boat and I hurtled towards the angry waters. I did my best to find a purchase, my fingernails trying to embed themselves in the highly varnished glass fibre structure, like something from a Tom and Jerry cartoon – screeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!
As I disappeared over the side, the rope caught. Steeley, in fits of laughter, described my predicament on his mobile phone. Trembling, I managed to haul myself back to the safety of the mainsail, next to Steeley.
“Very funny,” he laughed, clapping me on the back, before he headed back to the cockpit with a confident swagger. I managed to edge myself over and sit on the side of the boat.
Five minutes later, over screaming winds, I could hear The Sexton trying to get my attention in the cockpit. I looked over to see a most unusual sight. Steeley, the Tinkers’ Friend, had turned green; really green, like The Hulk or Kermit. What’s more, he was vomiting copious amounts over the side of the boat.
“Can this boat turn over?” I heard The Sexton ask Captain Colin.
“No, very unlikely,” replied the skipper. Why had The Sexton asked that? I looked behind me. I was sitting on the edge of the vessel, but all I could see 20 feet below me was turbulent, green, swirling sea. The boat was at 90 degrees to the surface of the water. My eyes widened and I gripped the edge of the boat as firmly as I could. As soon as possible, I made my way to the cockpit to join the others. The captain turned to pick up his flask when the boat was hit by a particularly nasty wave. The tiller flew around and hit him in the midriff, and he staggered back, losing his balance and slowly disappeared over the side. He wasn’t clipped on. In an instant, The Sexton flung out one of his meaty arms and grabbed the captain’s collar, hauling him back onboard one handed.
All of us composed ourselves as we contemplated what might have happened.
“Fancy a beer?” The Sexton asked the captain. Colin gave him a defeated look.
“Bloody hell yes,” he replied.
I retrieved some cans of beer and sandwiches from the hold by standing on the edge of the dining table and collecting them from the window frame, which had a view down to the sea bed. I didn’t stay there for long, as my stomach felt a bit like a washing machine.
The Sexton and I sipped on our cans of beer and munched our way through the sandwiches whilst watching the puce coloured Steeley dry retch over the side. The captain noticed us staring.
“He’s in a bad way. I think we should turn back,” he suggested. We nodded thoughtfully.
“How long will it take to get back?” asked Tony.
“Ten minutes,” said Colin.
“Ten minutes?” Tony repeated incredulously, “We’ve been out here for three hours!”
Colin nodded sagely.
“Shall we turn around?” he asked again.
“Well, the pubs are open,” said The Sexton, thoughtfully, ” and there’s rugby on the telly. Alright,” he agreed.
The captain barked out a few orders, giving up on nautical terms and just shouting “Turn that knob on the left to bring that little sail in”. Within ten minutes, we were once again facing land. Immediately, there was no wind. The boat was level, there was virtually no noise except for the cry of a single sea gull hovering above and Steeley’s throaty cries for Huwy. It was like being on a boating lake. The sun came out and within ten minutes, we were back in —-
We briefly approached land to give Steeley the opportunity to get off and head for the pharmacy.
As we approached our final landing place for the day, Tony came into his own, taking responsibility for using his knot tying skills to attach all the buffers to the side of the boat. As we approached the jetty, the captain brought the sailing boat up against the side. One by one, the buffers meekly gave up their hold on the side of the boat and we spent an extra ten minutes fishing them all out of the water.
Steeley finally caught up with us in the pub, looking less green and armed with industrial strength anti-seasickness pills.
An evening of fun and a full day’s sailing tomorrow to come. But that’s another story…