For a sailor in distress, golf is the thin end of the wedge

It came to me in a vision. Golf makes sense.

I’ve done some daft things in my time, but this Marlin’s Mission stunt had to be the stupidest of all.

I mean, what evangelist nutter dreamt up the utterly ridiculous idea of sailing a small boat round the coast to show how much fun you can have on a modest budget? It’s all lies. I can only apologise.

And if anyone out there has fallen for my propaganda and bought a cheap old Tupperware tub the size of a rabbit-hutch but without the creature comforts, I’d like to offer you a full refund… up to a maximum of £12… and a year’s subscription to Golfing World. I’m that serious.

I saw the light in Queenborough. I’d got beaten up bad as I turned right into the entrance of the Medway, as the stiff wind and tide that had flushed me down the Thames like a crazy bobsled joyride went berserk.

It was an explosive situation… literally. I was bearing down backwards – the howling, backing crosswind and tide now both working against me – on the wreck of the munitions ship Montgomery, which sank in 1944 with 1,400 tonnes of TNT still on board.

Sails down, 4hp outboard thrashing away, when I throttled up the boat slammed and crashed and the outboard was either half submerged or racing in thin air. When I throttled back I was being sucked down to the Montgomery.

Yikes, I thought: does Dick Everitt know how to draw a Sailfish? But to feature in one of those gruesome PBO Learning from Experience articles you have to survive.

In truth, there were any number of simple things I could have done to avoid the situation or get out of it – they teach it on courses – but I was utterly fixated on getting into Queenborough.

In the end, it was the slackening ebb that allowed me to inch my way in.

I secured Marlin to the pontoon with every line and fender I possessed, as well as some bigger ones lent me by the harbour master. I didn’t sleep a wink as Marlin snatched and thumped, then at 2am suddenly lurched and smashed against the pontoon.

A spring line had parted like a rubber band. As I replaced it I saw a shadowy figure in pyjamas behind me tending to the warps on his heavy displacement 40ft motorcruiser as his bow anchor pitched perilously close to Marlin’s stern.

All morning brought was a wan, sickly daylight to illuminate the horror. I’d had enough.

I trudged the empty wind-lashed streets of Queenborough, cursing the East Coast Pilot. Like all sailing guides, it omits the one essential bit of information all sailors need: the precise lat and long of the nearest golf-pro shop.

There isn’t one, but I did find that property was affordable in the Kentish town of Sheppey where I’d decided there and then to put down permanent roots and part-ex the Sailfish and all my sailing clobber towards a set of golf bats and matching Pringle, which doesn’t actually match anything apart from a Sunseeker.

That was my state of mind when my social workers arrived by car from Oxford. Mark and David, co-workers assigned to the Sailfish care-in-the-community programme, looked concerned as I rocked back and forth mumbling ‘must buy Pringle, need Pringle now’.

But not as concerned as I was when they said in unison ‘intervention?’, then nodded in agreement. As they picked me up by both arms I expected them to flourish a syringe or straitjacket, but instead they just said: ‘Right, breakfast’.

I barely had any appetite for the four rashers of bacon, three sausages and eggs, chips, beans, mushrooms and black pudding because they kept talking about horrid nautical stuff like tides and weather.

It was only when they told me there was a golf-pro shop in Ramsgate that I very reluctantly agreed to give it a go.

Yesterday’s Force 6 had moderated to a 4 or 5 west-south-west. It was mighty lumpy in the mouth of the Medway, but once out in the Thames, with the wind off the land, the sea was flatter. And we flew.

Two reefs, one, then none, Marlin was surfing, momentarily hitting 7.8 knots with the turbo boost of tide.

What a thrill, and all day we saw only one other sail, a big gaffer that we overhauled.

‘People don’t know what they’re missing,’ we laughed. We even made tea.

Queenborough to Ramsgate, 40 miles, seven hours, average nearly six knots… in a Sailfish! Spectacular!

In Ramsgate we chinked glasses and toasted each other, we toasted the sea, we toasted friendship, the wondrous, tough and feisty little Sailfish, we toasted life and all that sailing has to give.

Three big men slept well on an 18ft Sailfish that night. The next day’s log reads: ‘Ramsgate-Dover, 15mls, 6.5hrs, W4, later SW6, must buy golf racquets, need Pringle now’.

If marinas had golf-pro shops they’d make a killing.

PBO cartoon mugs

PBO cartoon mugs – gallery

Check out PBO's new cartoon sailing mug designs! Celebrating eight years of Claudia Myatt's cartoons in PBO...