Borrowing my mother’s boat
Bertie Wheen enjoys a summer afloat on Peter Duck and finds adventure surprisingly close to home
Ihad been planning to cover as many miles as I could, skipping past the home territory of the East Coast rivers and on to the unknown. As is the way with plans, nothing of the sort actually happened. Upon arriving aboard, I experienced the opposite of déjà vu –
jamais vu, when something familiar suddenly appears new, as if seen for the first time. That sensation of unrecognisability stayed with me, on and off, throughout the summer.
I have been lounging around on Peter Duck for as long as I can remember, on her foredeck and cabin roof, in her cockpit and my bunk, fulfilling the light, infrequent duties of a cabin boy. Despite my years on board, the yacht I boarded seemed almost a stranger. The dawning realisation of responsibility that I experienced was much as mum described her own realisation. As well as disapproving ghosts of former owners, however, I also had a mandate to return the Duck to very-much-stillthe-present-owner come summer’s end. Thankfully, you’re never alone on board a boat. Peter Duck, having seen seven decades of mixed competence, was capable enough for the both of us. That said, I knew I could still be duffer enough to get us both drowned if I wasn’t careful.
Shortly after setting off, I discovered how little of my home waters I really knew. This, coupled with coming to terms with single-handing for the first time, meant U-turning on my rather grandiose plans. Instead, I blissfully spent an inordinate amount of time heading nowhere in particular.
Sailing under my own direction forced me to better understand these waters, and to see the connections between one place and another. Exploring a river felt like finally having a proper conversation with someone I had known for years without getting close to. Those quiet, intensely intimate riverbank sunsets taught me how much adventure you can have without going terribly far.
‘I blissfully spent an inordinate amount of time heading nowhere in particular’
Bertie sails out of Tollesbury as Julia entrusts her pride and joy to a third generation
Coping with bad weather was another part of the learning experience