What do you do if you’re an early riser but your crew have other ideas? Resort to dirty tricks...
Ishrink from clogging this column with too many personal details, so I apologise for revealing that I’m what you might call a ‘morning person’ – by which I mean someone who prefers to be astir early, pottering about the ship while the decks still glisten with dew.
At no time is this more important to me than when setting out for a new destination. For to weigh anchor and slip seawards into the dawn is, I respectfully submit, one of sailing’s most perfect pleasures. One hand lightly on the tiller, the other wrapped around a cup of tea – what more could you ask for?
Unfortunately, I all too often find myself in the minority. My wife, Chele, believes early mornings are best survived with her eyes tight shut and it appears that most of my friends are likeminded – most notably those that arrive very much as ‘house guests’ rather than fellow sailors.
This is a particular problem in the Med where there are no handy tidal imperatives. You know the sort of thing I mean: ‘We’ll be setting sail at 0500 to catch the first of the ebb.’ Such pronouncements bring with them a certain irrefutable authority, the inexorable grindings of nature at its mightiest and not to be trifled with.
But where the seas are flaccid and tideless you have no such excuses and can be seen to be unreasonable if imposing personal preferences.
But there are limits. Several years ago, we were joined by a couple who thought it would be fun to spend their hols ‘before the mast’ as they put it.
They joined us at anchor in Mallorca and were no sooner quaffing in the cockpit when He (I baulk at calling him Brian for fear of revealing his identity) raised his glass and said, ‘Here’s to the absence of alarm clocks.’
I thought it a good time to mention our plan to sail to the almost uninhabited island of Cabrera the following morning.
‘Not too early, I hope,’ said She. ‘I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.’ By her wan tone it was clear that the commodity in arrears was sleep.
I struck a compromise. ‘No later than nine, then.’ They looked at each other, astounded. ‘Or maybe ten,’ I added in a rare flash of generosity.
They looked relieved, but not a lot. Tiptoes and whispers
The next morning found me tiptoeing around the deck, removing sail covers and generally preparing for our departure. From the sounds bubbling up from the forepeak it was clear our guests had made their transition to relaxation mode without undue suffering. An hour later, Chele was on deck and we sat conversing in whispers over mugs of coffee. By 0900 I’d had enough of muted utterances and was speaking normally. There was evidence of restlessness from forward but no sign of anyone else even remotely perpendicular.
Time to shorten the anchor rode, I thought – there being nothing like a clanking windlass and the crash of chain into the forepeak locker to have people bounding on deck.
And bound they did. The next thing I knew, they were erupting out of the companionway and had dived over the side.
‘What bliss!’ cried She. ‘Absolute heaven,’ answered He as they struck out towards a nearby beach. Alone on my foredeck, I must have cut a pathetic figure as the sounds receded with distance.
Well, we did get away eventually, but not before we had paused for brunch. Had they stayed aboard I might have kept control of the situation, cowed them into compliance, had them flogged in my imaginings. Once they quit the boat, short of abandoning them I was powerless.
A couple of weeks later I was expressing my frustration to another skipper. He nodded sympathetically. ‘Know what you mean,’ he said. ‘My daughter invited her boyfriend out last summer. They used the boat as a bathing platform and were so exhausted afterwards all they could do was sunbathe. But I did find a solution.’
Now he had my attention. Across the table with its bedewed glasses of beer, my companion was smiling broadly. ‘Yes?’ I prompted.
‘Yes,’ he said – and here I must tender a warning to the sensitive. ‘Just before they came on deck I tossed shreds of toilet paper into the water around the boat. Amazing how fast they changed their minds’.
‘There’s nothing like a clanking windlass and the crash of chain to have people bounding on deck’
Heading seaward into the dawn is not everyone’s cup of tea