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Re­cently my old ship­mate Phil Wade and I were rem­i­nisc­ing about his stamp col­lec­tion. Phil is the most un­likely col­lec­tor, but his many books of stamps de­pict­ing all things that float are an im­pres­sive record of a life­time of travel. I call Phil a ‘col­lec­tor of stamps, a col­lec­tor of dreams.’

Not for the first time, we hashed over the evo­lu­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion over our life­times. Send­ing post­cards to friends and, more poignantly, re­ceiv­ing them at poste restante (for those un­der the age of 30, Google it!), was such a joy.

Since so­cial me­dia and the way peo­ple now com­mu­ni­cate, of­ten while ‘bowl­ing alone,’ is ever more in the news, I have to retell a favourite story (for prob­a­bly the 100th time). This is a story from the 1970s, and I will gladly bore any­one who will lis­ten about how ev­ery­thing that hap­pened back then was all good. It demon­strates what was pos­si­ble when mak­ing a long-term ar­range­ment.

In the spring of 1979 I de­liv­ered an IOR maxi from Honolulu to Manila, and on ar­rival be­came stranded when the owner dis­ap­peared and the boat was even­tu­ally im­pounded.

I was liv­ing the ad­ven­ture, go­ing to cock fight­ing matches – an in­ex­pen­sive dis­trac­tion that kept me amused – but running out of cash. I started putting out feel­ers by telex at the main post of­fice down­town. I needed a ticket out.

This was pre-fax ma­chine. The first fax I saw was at

Hood sail­mak­ers in Lyming­ton de­tail­ing a tack patch and it was sent to our Por­ta­cabin of­fice in Ham­ble dur­ing the Whit­bread Race work-up on Drum in 1985. We gath­ered around and stared at this magic piece of pa­per... Telexes and tele­grams were the mode of comms up til then.

If, in the field, they re­quired some leg­work it was a case of march­ing around to post of­fices and stand­ing in queues. Then you re­turned daily to wait for an an­swer that might never come. One pos­i­tive thing about this was it gave you a lot of time to con­tem­plate your fu­ture – or lack of one.

In May, af­ter two months in Manila, a wel­come tele­gram ar­rived from the UK. ‘Need you as skip­per. Parmelia Race to Free­man­tle. Start in Au­gust. Peter Wright.’ I agreed by re­turn. I was saved.

If you ig­nored the heat and hu­mid­ity, the armies of mos­qui­tos at night and the filth in the har­bour, things weren’t all bad in Manila. There was an in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion of yachties in what seemed to be per­ma­nent res­i­dence. Solo sailors, fam­i­lies, ne’er do wells and chancers aplenty. Many had bought cheap pro­duc­tion boats in Asia and a year later, on the way to some­where, got no fur­ther. They were al­ways ‘wait­ing for a part’ in or­der to ship out and carry on.

While work­ing out the de­tails of my de­par­ture a lone French­man and I struck a chord in Franglais and we got on the sub­ject of alpine moun­tains – as you do in the heat of the pre-mon­soon with sweat running down your back­side.

He was on his way to Free­man­tle de­liv­er­ing a Choey Lee, one of those Hong Kong specials down by their wa­ter­lines with teak trim.

Plan­ning ahead now and see­ing as I would be in Aus­tralia by De­cem­ber for the Syd­ney Ho­bart Race, I sent a telex to a mate, Gra­ham ‘Friz­zle’ Free­man, who was skip­per of a new Fr­ers maxi, Bum­ble Bee 4, ask­ing for a berth. I was all set for the next nine months, and back in the day that was pretty good go­ing.

The mon­soon broke just as Patrick shoved off for points south and I was about to board a flight. It was like flush­ing a toi­let, the toi­let be­ing the open sew­ers of Manila, the sep­tic tank the har­bour.

Patrick and I had agreed to meet at the Cruis­ing Yacht Club of Aus­tralia in Syd­ney on Christ­mas day on the eve of the Ho­bart Race. I was there on the day and so was he. For six months since Manila there had been no com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the con­trary. In­deed, no com­mu­ni­ca­tion at all. When I fin­ished the race we jet­ted over to New Zealand and spent the en­tire sum­mer moun­taineer­ing.

How dif­fer­ent it is today when all our plans (read lack of) seem to be con­tin­u­ally mod­i­fied and ad­justed, right up to the mo­ment when you trip over the kerb while your friend al­most walks off the dock, both of you on smart­phones within line of sight of each other.

Ahhh, the Sev­en­ties…


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