All in the same boat
Short stories and observations by Hettie Ashwin
OSMOSIS: the gradual, often unconscious, absorption of knowledge or ideas through continual exposure rather than deliberate learning. This sums up what it is to be a yachty or that small breed of people who call the water home.
News on the water travels fast. And there is nothing like a disaster, mishap, sinking, near miss or catastrophe to bring out those old salty dog tales. Why no-one tells you about the fabulous time they had and the easy bits where nothing goes wrong is a mystery. But mention a drama and those ‘‘I knew a bloke once’’ stories rise to the surface like an oil slick. It is only when the story returns back to the owner several seasons later and it has turned from a gas leak to an explosion with casualties that you realise it is not so much the story as the telling that keeps it alive.
Boats, like people, have a history and the stories behind the wreck lying in the mangroves is as fascinating as the man who put it there. Ask any sailor worth his salt and he will spin a tale. A simple enquiry about the blue boat that drifted might end up into something akin to a Viking saga. You get the back history, the drama, the tension, the similar but not quite the same tragedy, the outcome and the moral of the story. If the telling happens in a chandlery, then it’s a given that the audience at the end will be twice what it was at the beginning.
Those new to sailing usually listen, nod and digest the information, happy in the knowledge that it won’t happen to them. Some with a few seasons under their belts or years at the helm most often have the one upmanship syndrome. I’ll see your sinking and raise you a cyclone. The old salts have more stories than wrinkles and will transfix the audience with daring-do and remind you that there is more to the sailing lifestyle than matching spray jackets. There are lessons to be learned, advice to heed and laughter to be had. Some of it might get you though a trivia evening, some of it might just save your life in mounting seas and some might make you chuckle on those cold nights on watch.
The benefit of all this talk is information which is a totally different thing to gossip. Yachties belong to that entity called a collective encyclopaedia. Want a pump? Someone will know someone. Need a bottom scrape? What’s-his-face will do it. And if you are looking for a jolly good scare in relation to your cruising plans, just ask at the bar. Pirate stories, hostage takers and uncharted reefs will make your eyes pop and Low Isles might be a better option.
On the flip side there is the camaraderie. If you want a bit of muscle, need a bit of advice or to borrow a tool, there is no better community than yachties. A more fiercely loyal bunch would be hard to find. Helping hands are always there to take a rope, offer a spare part, share a feed of fish. Boating is a bond whether you are from Jamaica, America, France or Oz. We are all in the same boat.
But remember, only ask about cyclones if you have a spare three hours up your sleeve.