The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

One day whilst pottering around the deck of my old Folkboat, a boat I had bought a few years off retirement, and spent nearly two years renovating. I had managed to change one or two planks, sister a few ribs, re-corking and make her shipshape and seaworthy once more. The intention had been to move to France and live onboard. From there I planned, over time, travelling across the canals of Europe all the way to the Black Sea, for this I would have to find a like-minded crew member along the way.

It was then I was approached by Fred for the first time. Fred then told me he had purchased one of the boats for sale in the marina. There were always boats for sale around the marina, and had even managed to negotiate to keep the mooring it was on, so few would have even realised that it had in fact changed hands.

Fred had purchased the yacht as a retirement present to himself and wanted to know how to lower the mast to fix a problem he was having with the wind direction and speed indicator attached at the masthead.

“Why lower the mast?” I asked, “I have a roll-up ladder that fits in the mast’s sail grove, you simply haul it up on the mainsail halyard, tether the foot and climb on up, it’s there if you wish to borrow it”.

Fred was not keen on climbing the mast so I went along and we soon had the wayward instrument firmly reattached. He then asked if I would mind accompanying him out, on what would be a maiden voyage for him as the skipper of his new charge, made sense, you really needed at least one another crew member to take lines as you passed through the locks.

“Great, I would love too”, since it was a smart 27 footer with all the toys onboard, more a case of hold me back.

I notice that although Fred managed the boat well under power, navigating the harbour and locks with ease, possibly much better than I could have, once the sails were set he had no idea what was going on. That first trip was a short four hours trip, ‘in and out’ on the same tide and once made fast we retired to my boat, Maggie. I lit the stove and we sat and blethered, whilst lubricating our throats, first with a pot of tea, then a glasses or possibly three of the water of life. Somewhere in the conversation, we arranged a weekend sail over to Bridlington. Now since we were both recently retired it made sense to take one boat and share the expenses. I would phone ahead and book us into the sailing club for the following Friday night, the club’s accommodation although basic, charging a very basic tariff, three-pound per night, great value, a hot shower always appreciated at the end of a trick. Fred would buy the provisions and diesel; I would pay the harbour dues and our fee at the clubhouse in Bridlington, a rather wayward tricycle and I headed for home.

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With an early tide and a fair wind we were soon rounding the Chequers Buoy and out of the estuary and into Bridlington Bay. On leaving the river the boat danced a lively tune of North Sea swell and as the wind picked up our mast bent as the sails strained in the strengthening wind and the standing rigging sang a melancholy song, we would make good passage for Bridlington.

Fred spent the hours down in the cabin frequently sticking his head out of the companionway to ask if I wanted another cuppa, chicken sandwich, or was I ready for another bacon roll? The boat well-founded had all the modern equipment on board, I loved all the electronic gadgets and the one I wish I had on Maggie, was the one that gave relative wind so you could make the best of it. Happy as Larry I sat at the tiller the boat tooting along at a cracking pace, spray flying from her bow.

We managed Bridlington with enough water to enter the harbour and tied up for the night.

Being a Friday the club bar was doing good business. We found ourself in the company of a small mixed group, who had taken up residence in the far corner. I was in good voice and gave them my rendering of ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, then to get everyone singing ‘The Wild Rover’ and that great anthem form Alabama. ‘We Shall Overcome’.

Norma, was pitit with bottle-blond hair, cut close to her head. she flirted with me in her tomboy playful way, that was very infectious and flattering to me.

“Crab-apple” I told her.

“What! What was that you just said?”

“Crab-apple, you washed your hair tonight and you used crab-apple shampoo, am I right?”

She did not answer but leaned over a little closer than she really needed too, and pretended to sniff. “Lifebuoy”, you smell nice too” she teased

“We are only here for the one night” I come back at her.

“I’m drinking as fast as I can” she replied, pretending to be coy.

“Will you be staying on board tonight?” she whispered, taking a liberty and nibbled my ear lobe as she did so.

“Oh no, I’m far to scared of the dark – now if I had company….”

“But I’m a good girl” she returns, again putting on that shy face that made her even more attractive.

The incoming tide slapped ourhull, rocking me awake, and as the tide lifted and righted the boat from the mud of the harbour, I tried to come to terms with the strange surroundings. My head fuzzy, my eyes still heavy from lack of sleep, it was then she moved and I heard her whispered,

“I told you I was good”.

Breakfast, was much later and a sombre affair, with heads still suffering Friday night’s jollities. Fred came on board around 10 am and made ready for our departure and clearly had no desire to take the tiller, so we travelled our homeward leg with me once more at the helm and Fred on galley duties.

The passage back across Bridlington Bay was against a foul tide and unhelpful wind, I had been on autopilot for the last two hours and the buoy that marked the Canada wreck was a welcome sight. When we once more entered the Humber River, east of the Binks and west of the Chequer Buoy, it was already dark, but the wind was much more favourable. I set the boat on a course just outside of the shipping lane’s marker buoys, and asked Fred to take the tiller; I was going below to put my head down for half an hour and asked him to wake me when we made the fort. “Just follow the buoys,” I said as I pointed out the a buoy over the bow and a more distant one over the stern, “If you loose sight of the buoy just keep her heading west, you will soon pick up the next one, but don’t stray into the shipping lane” I warned before disappearing below.

I was asleep before my head hit the bench cushion. I woke with the boat rocking violently and the sails flapping. On coming up on deck, the land had vanished from sight and glancing at the compass it was clear that we were far out in the estuary and heading, for as far as I could make out, Holland. Instead of holding the boat on course Fred had simply let the boat take control, whatever way the wind wanted to take her. I furled the headsail and started the engine and set us back on a westerly course before handed back the tiller, we would motor sail the rest of the way in. I curled up on the cockpit bench for the rest of our journey and dozed to the steady beat of our boat’s engine. The lines of a long-forgotten poem came into my head,

What know you of harbours,

Who sail not on the sea.

We did many more trips under sail in Fred’s boat, and for all the miles and hours at sea Ted never understood the principle of sailing. I would sit by him and tell him what was going on but Fred was always keen to disappear below deck and leave me with the helm, not that I was complaining. 

Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.  

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