Learning to love life afloat is a Titanic struggle

I’VE always believed water is best confined to a bottle, basin or bath – never sloshing around in a sea. A body of liquid that contains strange creatures and is influenced – preternaturally – by the moon is not to be trusted.

Jane teases that I’m reluctant to cross a puddle in the driveway without nautical charts and a sextant. An excursion to a seaside boating pond can never be countenanced unless I’ve scoured the area for albatrosses and tuned to Radio 4. Humber, Thames, Felixstowe promenade: southwest three or four, slight or moderate, fair then rain, moderate or good.

Quite how I ended up with a wife from a seafaring family I’ll never know. Perhaps I was press-ganged. When I say “seafaring”, I don’t mean an East Coast Onedin Line dynasty, but Jane’s dad could smell the salt of the North Sea from his garden near Aldeburgh and sailed from a precocious age. Legend has it he could tie a reef knot in his dressing-gown cord before he could recite his ABC. Barely seven hours of each spring and summer weekend was spent on dry land when Jane was a girl, as the family boat nosed its way along the Alde and Ore, the Deben and the Orwell. It all came naturally.

Me, having grown up among concrete and Tarmac, I’m more of a “stick to walks and bike rides at weekends” kind of landlubber. The only things that put me off sailing are: the expense, the cramped space, damp cabins, loos designed for pygmies, the prospect of immersion in freezing and turbulent depths, and the threat of death. (I’ve seen what happened to George Clooney in the film The Perfect Storm, so what hope for me?)

I was once invited out in the in-laws’ vessel – life-jacket double-buckled and a line securing me to the hull like an umbilical cord. I was even given a turn at the helm. (Apparently you don’t call it “driving”.) All went swimmingly and then Admiral Father-in-Law ordered “Come round!” Come round what? There’s nothing here but river water: no bollards, T-junctions or mini-roundabouts. By the time I’d pushed the rudder in the wrong direction in panic, spun the wheel too fast and let a critical rope slip through my fingers, my confidence was shot. Using the metaphor of Swallows and Amazons, I was definitely more a naive Roger than a competent John – my natural habitat the clubhouse or dinghy park, and not amidships. Jane drags my reveries back to the present. She’s flicking through holiday brochures. “Ooh. How about sailing around the Greek islands?” Lovely. Leave the Pimm’s and lemons to me. Anchors Aweigh!


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