Initial impressions of a man of letters

In his latest column, published in the March 2015 issue of PBO, Dave explains the WC arrangements on a Sailfish to a keen novice sailor who speaks almost entirely in acronyms…

My Sailfish 18-based corporate sailing weekends have had the odd hiccup over the years, but I knew Mike was trouble the moment he burst into the Queen’s Head and bellowed ‘What O, skipper’.

Such language has no place in a waterside pub, and it very nearly stunned the locals into speech as they choked on their chunky mead then wiped their beards on the curtains.

Next, as they scanned Mike up and down, their jaws dropped and their eyes popped when they fixed on his footwear. He was wearing… wait for it… deck shoes! Wait for it… without socks!

Such garb has no place around boats.

I should explain here that non-sailor Mike was the latest beneficiary of my Sailfish-based one-on-one luxury corporate team-building survival course.

My do-it-yourself personal development programmes normally start with a shore- based briefing in the Queen’s Head, which generally leads to feelings of well-being and self-esteem – on my part.

Over the years, my five-star barely-a- boat courses – now run under the company name Sort Of Sailing (SOS) since Sailfishes of Distinction (SOD) got closed down by Trading Standards – has changed people’s lives.

Most have either moved further inland, permanently diverted my phone calls to voicemail, taken up golf or moved into sheltered accommodation.

Yet every once in a while I take out a novice who becomes so transfixed by the tang of salt and tinny-tasting tea that they go on courses so they can tell me what I’m doing wrong, then buy a boat of their own and blame me for their penury and the break-up of their relationship.

Actually sometimes they thank me for that.

Spiritual serenity

That was my agenda as I suggested Mike might enjoy replenishing himself amid the tranquil and spiritual serenity of the River Blackwater in the mystic Essex marshes.

Unfortunately Mike lives in the fast lane, holds a private pilot’s licence and earns a living restoring and racing classic cars: not really the sort of guy likely to find his senses tingling from plodding along at the speed of a pensioner’s mobility scooter.

It also means that apart from saying ‘what o,’ he talks almost entirely in acronyms.

For weeks previous Mike had been genning up and quizzing me about ETDs, ETAs, DSC, QNHs and QFEs. When he explained that the last two had something to do with flight altimeter settings at sea level I said that I hoped we’d be at sea level for the entire weekend.

That prompted questions about my IQ, QA, qualifications, and whether I had any initials after my name, to which I replied that the initials of my name stood for Day Skipper, which means I’m virtually an admiral.

When he found out that Day Skipper was a night class he queried whether I was also allowed to sail in daylight!

Other concerns he raised were about charts, radar, VHF, GPS, EPIRBs, AIS, water temperature, drowning, death and burial at sea.

Patiently I ignored all these questions, but even more exasperating were the endless queries about where we were going, how long it would take to get there and what the weather was going to be like.

Naturally I said I didn’t know because each one depended on the other.

And as he stepped aboard, Mike asked the strangest question of all, in fact one that no bloke has ever asked me: ‘Where’s the toilet?’
This completely baffled me, and I completely baffled him as I made an expansive arc with my arm through 360° over the soup-brown River Blackwater.
However, as Mike had enrolled for my platinum ‘corporate hostility’ package I reached into the lazarette and pulled out my bucket.
As soon as the sails went up Mike started asking more questions about COG, SOG and UTC, to which I mostly replied OMG, while every 10 seconds he looked at his Breitling aviator’s wrist piece and asked how far we had gone since he last looked.
When he asked what various seabirds were I said ‘dunno,’ but eventually he said ‘they can’t all be dunnos’.
Out of sorts
Something was amiss aboard Marlin. She wasn’t sailing right. She was griping, heavy on the helm and out of sorts.
It was only when Mike asked what the taut line on the end of the boom was that I realised we’d sailed all day with the topping lift on. Why hadn’t he asked earlier!
It was then I decided that nothing I could do would give Mike confidence in my basic competence, so when we moored up for our overnight stop and he asked where we were I told him Tollesbury.
When he noticed the town sign for Brightlingsea he became strangely pensive, reflective even, and quiet.
And so he remained. On the sail back the marshy solitude of the Blackwater was bewitching in the low late-summer sun and Marlin behaved like a witch, her helm light and balanced, the rudder tickling the water which chuckled in our wake.
It filled me up, but not everyone gets it.
FYI, I didn’t ask Mike to complete a feedback form.