Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Life on the Ocean Wave – Part 5


N and I got up and wandered over to the Heads together. Together. Yes, really, TOGETHER. There is not much in our busy home lives that we do Together. He does the caveman provider stuff, I do the cavewoman keep-the-home-fires burning stuff. He leaves early and comes home late. We have supper together and watch a bit of telly. We’re usually both too tired to talk much. He sometimes slopes off to his computer to go through another 300 emails before bed or read over accounts an inch thick (yawn) and I seem to spend forever getting stuff ready for the following day – school bags, PE bags, snacks, swimming bags, homework diaries to sign, notes to write, forms to fill in, cheques to write. The tireder I am, the longer it takes. You might ask why I don’t do this during the day when I’m less tired. I do. But there is always more to do and which has to be achieved before dawn breaks and we rush to catch the school bus.

Thus, it was quite a novelty, and really rather nice, in a gentle, unexciting sort of way, to be clutching our wash bags and each other’s hands as we meandered past the clinking yachts, life beginning to stir within, towards our ablutions. We greeted fellow boaties with smiley ‘good mornings’, all of us united by our current salty circumstances. Luckily I entered the Ladies washroom with someone who had been there before and checked I had a key on me – if you didn’t, she warned, the door would slam shut and you’d be resolutely trapped as there was no handle on the other side. Now, I’m normally quite resourceful in these circumstances and would have found a window to crawl out of somewhere, but, in fact, this would have proved impossible. All the windows were small and high and had strong metal bars on them and I would have been reduced to shouting pathetically or, in desperation, crawling down the loo into the sewers or something unthinkable. I was pleased fate had brought me to this place with this kind woman. Being stuck in a loo is always rather demeaning somehow. It feels like you’ve been caught with your pants down, quite literally.

On returning to the boat, we breakfasted and did our checks, and soon it was time to leave Ceuta – this little bit of Spain in Morocco - behind too. The snores on our sister boat mixed with the clink and fizz of soluble aspirin. I was not envious. And it was nice to be ahead of them, for once.

So, back across the Straits we sailed, this time heading for Sotogrande, boaty-golfy paradise for the rich and not so famous. The famous go to Puerto Banus, further up the coast near Marbella. As we drew nearer, we practised Man Overboard exercises. The weather had deteriorated by now into leaden skies, no horizon and persistent heavy drizzle. The water was slate grey. We might as well have been on the Solent. As a bucket was thrown over the rails to represent Man Overboard, I couldn’t help thinking of my little daughters and how completely horrific it would be if it was real and it was one of them. So small, so vulnerable, so terrified in the immense, remorseless ocean. It was a hard thought to put aside.

I was last in Sotogrande nearly 15 years ago and thought it a funny old joint even then. I’m not good with conceptual places. I like things to be old and settled, having grown organically out of and into their environment rather than just plonked down randomly by developers. Places like that lack soul, and Sotogrande is no exception. The weather didn’t help, it’s true. Nevertheless, once berthed, knots secured, ropes tidied, electricity hitched up, we jumped enthusiastically off the boat and headed to the nearest bar. Keith joined us, then his wife and dog who’d come down from the hills where they live to say hello. We’d chatted a lot during this week and learnt that they’d left the horrors of two busy working lives in England (coincidentally, in fact, they lived quite close to us in the Peaks) a few years back, invested in some more boats and used all their prodigious sailing experience to join in business with Trafalgar Sailing. Part of the decision to do this was to spend more time together. The reality was that they still spent much time apart, but it was still a better life, and they were, at least, no longer in the blood-sucking grip of corporate employers. They were in control, not somebody else. Their ultimate aim, in a few more years’ time, is to buy a very large catamaran and sail it all over the world, taking on friends and family wherever and whenever anyone wants. It sounded like a lovely plan. It was a little more ambitious than our own attempts to escape the corporate grip, but then they have a tad more experience than five days in the Straits of Gibraltar. My mind went back to the image of those sun-kissed children on that beach in Rhodes, all those years ago, and I wondered if we were really any closer to realising that long-held dream. Soon we would be back in England again and corporate life would force our hands apart once more.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Life on the Ocean Wave – Part 4


There is something very cosy about the cabin on a yacht, especially the fore cabin where we were tucked up. Curling into the nose of the boat, a little skylight above you, loads of well-designed cupboards and cubby holes in which to put your stuff (too much in my case, of course), all in shiny wood and with natty little metal push button catches; all so carefully thought out for life on the ocean wave. We were mercifully next to the Head (boaty speak for loo), too, so night time needs were easily met without crashing through the cabin and worrying about waking others up as you pumped furiously and noisily to keep things flushed and ship-shape.

Breakfasts were a pleasure too. Keith would lay out what was available (cereal, toast, jam) and we’d help ourselves and eat wherever took our fancy, inside or out. As the sun was shining on Smir, I decided to potter out into the cockpit to eat and sip my coffee. Coming from the rain-soaked High Peak, every minute of UV light is essential to my very well-being, mental and physical. Thus I was greatly looking forward to the R&R promised after a morning of harbour exercises and lunch. I was heading for the beach. I searched through my enormous pile of clothes for bikini and Boden (naturally) kaftan, grabbed a towel and hopped off expectantly. For good measure, I took my RYA handbook to swot up on lights and buoys ahead of our night sail, where I knew we were to be tested. The beach looked enticing and there were a number of groups of young locals frolicking on the sands. We chose a nice looking spot, away from the hubbub, and laid down our towels. With that the sun went behind the only cloud in the sky. And stayed there for the whole two hours we had to relax. I’ve yet to understand why you can have days when the sky is filled with puffy clouds but never goes behind one, and days where just one cloud buggers everything up. A chill breeze arrived simultaneously and I watched the calm sea transform before my eyes into something choppy and uninviting. N fell asleep so he was all right. I just sat there, slightly hunched, cursing, with only snoring for company. I was too irritated to sleep, so, having made a shell picture on the sand and gathered some up for the girls, there was nothing for it but to swot up. Dull, dull, dull.

I prodded N and said we should get back to the boat. Keith had cooked up supper which we enjoyed before getting ourselves and our vessel ready for the night sail exercise. I wasn’t too sure what to expect and left the harbour with a little bit of apprehension lurking in my stomach (unless it was Keith’s cooking). I’ve never been good with deep dark water at night. Think I went down with the Titanic in a former life. It started well with calmish seas (the breeze died down and the sun came back out just as we’d had to leave the beach) and a serene sun set. Keith sat back contentedly and declared it all very pleasant. He tested us on lights and buoys and I beat N hands down. Hah! That’s what comes of sleeping on the job. My jubilant mood had nonetheless evaporated by 1.00am as we were still lashing about in the straits of Gibraltar in large swells trying to tack in towards Ceuta but failing dismally because of the strong currents and wind in the wrong direction, and was actually thinking ‘sod this’. Luckily Keith came to the same conclusion and suggested we stick the engine on. If it hadn’t been a sailing course, we’d have done that hours ago and would be nicely tucked up in the harbour bar by now. As our shipmates were. Humph. They’d set off earlier than us and had had a different tidal situation. They were hideously cock-a-hoop when we finally joined them at the bar – and not a little pissed to boot. Mr Tim, the big south-African stow-away with the equally big gob and ego, was in fine form. Expletives were issuing from his mouth like there was no tomorrow and he was attacking people, aggressively and relentlessly trying to reach their inner core. It seemed I was his target this particular night. Keith decided he was unnecessarily offensive, which is probably true, but, hey, I can handle it. I’m an incurable nosey parker and probe people incessantly for every last known detail of their so-called private life and that of their first-cousin-once-removed’s. In fact I was rather flattered that he was even interested in finding anything out about me. Then when he kept calling me a ‘damned sexy woman’ I was, of course, putty in his hands. What a nice chap. I’m 45, married, with three children – God, I take it when I can! So I told him very little (no point baring my soul when he was drunk and would forget five minutes later) and threw a few punches back in his direction, finished my lake of gin and tonic (what is it with the Spanish and gin?) and teetered back to my cosy cabin, happy that we got here without hitting any icebergs and that I, at least, would not be encumbered by a hangover in the morning.
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