Thursday, 12 June 2008
Life on the Ocean Wave – Part 1
He suddenly appeared, out of the darkness, in luminous orange trousers and white shirt, clambering across our boat as if it was his own. When challenged as to his activity, his response, in a thick German accent, was ‘I’m looking for a nice young girl to rape’. And why not.
So this was my early introduction to Nol, a polite dutch (they like orange trousers) ICT teacher. He had flowing grey hair, kind and knowing greenish eyes and a smooth tanned face for his 57 years. The Dutch do age well too. Must be the blond hair and hippy genes; and he lives in Switzerland, which is very civilised. Takes the strain out of life. His rape comment really was a little out of keeping, I came to realise, and I banished all thoughts of Austrian cellars from my mind…
No, Nol had a kindness and sensitivity to him which I really appreciated as the days went by. He was divorced for reasons I could quite understand: his wife insisted on her sister living with them most of the time, which isn’t ideal, is it? (And I speak from experience, as my brother-in-law came to stay for two weeks when I was first married and left 18 months later. I think I’m very tolerant.). Apparently they’d sit at the table and chat of an evening, largely ignoring Nol when he came in from work. Yet despite this, he had the grace to say ‘I know I’m not easy to live with either’. I liked him. But then again, I didn’t have to be cooped up on a boat with him for five days like his fellow sailing students. I had the luxury of sharing a drink and walking away, so it isn’t fair of me to comment. So I won’t.
We were in Gibraltar yacht basin, bobbing about on a Bavaria 37. German made. Very solid, very stable, very reassuring. This was the realisation of a 20 year old intention – to learn to sail. We’d been on a beach in Rhodes in the mid 80’s enjoying the solitary sands and setting sun when we noticed a little dinghy being launched from a boat in the bay and being rowed slowly towards us. Its occupants were bleached blond little children coming ashore to play at the end of the day. Their father was a retired RAF pilot and they were spending a year sailing around the Mediterranean. It looked like Heaven, it sounded like Heaven and I said to N how I would love to do that one day when we might have young children. Having now reached that potential time in our lives we knew that the dream could never happen all the while we couldn’t tack and gybe and tie the ropes. So here we were, at last, about to start our week’s sailing course where Europe meets Africa (which appealed more than the Solent, it has to be said). N and I had the luxury of the boat and the chief instructor to ourselves; our shipmates on the other boat had to learn to get along with eachother. I was a little envious because I love a bit of camaraderie, but they were here for two weeks while we just had the one, so we had to learn a lot, quickly – hence we’d chosen to go alone.
That first morning, I was out on deck in the sunshine with a cup of coffee, practising my reef knots and bowlines and gently nosing over to the other boat to see how the new crew were getting along. I’m fascinated by strangers being thrown together and I was trying to sneak a peek at the dynamics of all these diverse personalities and ages. Nol was there, appearing slightly dogmatic with his German accent and more knowledge than some of his shipmates (he was doing a Day Skipper refresher course in preparation for two more weeks in which he was hoping to attain his Coastal Skipper qualification). There was a young girl with very blond hair and big brown eyes who was having sun-tan cream rubbed into her back by a large guy with a south African accent and imposing manner. ‘Top of the morning’ he called across to me and we exchanged some further pleasantries and jokes. Two other girls of similar but indeterminate age (30s?), wearing shorts and sunglasses and looking relaxed in each other’s company were also on deck. I ear-wigged as their laid-back instructor was telling them all about flares and then turned my attention back to my knots. N, meanwhile, was holed up in the cabin sweating over charts and compasses. I was glad I had elected just to do (In)Competent Crew. You can only have one captain on a ship, after all...
…To be continued.