Lend­ing my boat to the next gen­er­a­tion

Ju­lia Jones plucks up the courage to let her son Ber­tie bor­row the fam­ily’s clas­sic yacht for the sum­mer

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Ju­lia Jones plucks up the courage to let her son Ber­tie bor­row her pride and joy for the sum­mer

I’d been plan­ning for the sum­mer of 2016 as Peter

Duck’s 70th an­niver­sary year. Our 28ft wooden ketch had been com­mis­sioned by Arthur Ran­some in 1945, built at Pin Mill on the River Or­well, launched and sent on her sea tri­als in 1946. She was not, how­ever, of­fi­cially reg­is­tered or sailed by her owner un­til the early spring of 1947. I had var­i­ous ideas to mark the an­niver­sary – some rather sig­nif­i­cant cruise, a din­ner at the Butt & Oys­ter pub at Pin Mill, and tran­scrip­tion of log books – but in the end I did noth­ing.

I spent one night only on board, had two small flur­ries down the Deben and that was it. My mother’s de­men­tia had wors­ened sig­nif­i­cantly and I needed to help her move into a nurs­ing home. I had an eye op­er­a­tion and then my daugh­ter was dan­ger­ously ill. These were fam­ily Force Nines: I had to ac­cept that I was weather bound.

But how would PD cope with a sum­mer spent grow­ing weed on her moor­ing? Over the 17 years that I’ve been re­spon­si­ble for Peter Duck I’ve dis­cov­ered that she has an ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­pac­ity to con­vey her re­proaches if she feels ne­glected. If reg­u­lar vis­its are not paid she be­gins to in­trude into my dreams. I find I am sail­ing her up a creek that morphs into a mo­tor­way or head­ing into some im­pos­si­ble tun­nel where she will inevitably lose her masts. Please, don’t at­tempt anal­y­sis – I un­der­stand I am neu­rotic. I’ve been known to leave my warm bed at 0200, drive 50 miles and row down the river in the dark be­cause I’ve be­come con­vinced that her sea­cocks have been left open. How could I ex­pect her to for­give me if 2016 be­came a com­plete No Sail­ing Sum­mer?

The an­swer had been glim­mer­ing on the hori­zon since the pre­vi­ous year when my son Ber­tie (aged 20) and I had been to­gether for an early morn­ing de­par­ture from Wells-Next-theSea and head­ing north for the Wash.

‘I think I’d like to go round Bri­tain when I fin­ish univer­sity,’ he said sud­denly. He be­gan to mut­ter about dinghies and sleep­ing bags and I strug­gled to con­tain my sur­prise. Ber­tie’s a com­puter sci­en­tist; he’d done re­search in­tern­ships

ev­ery sum­mer and I’d as­sumed he’d con­tinue im­me­di­ately to post­grad­u­ate study. He mis­took my si­lence for dis­ap­proval, as chil­dren tend to do, so we didn’t get much fur­ther with that con­ver­sa­tion. Then he dropped out of univer­sity al­to­gether and I did strug­gle to ad­just my ideas – un­til I dis­cov­ered that for the first time since I’ve owned Peter Duck I had a vol­un­teer to help me with her fit­ting out. This was a game-changer.

‘So, Ber­tie, if I’m not go­ing to get much sail­ing this year, do you want to take her away? But I don’t think you’re quite ready to go round Bri­tain yet,’ I added hastily. Ber­tie’s ab­sent-mind­ed­ness is leg­endary. The pre­vi­ous sum­mer when he and his cousin had been asked to move the boat from Lev­ing­ton to Shot­ley they’d spent half an hour sail­ing up the Or­well in the wrong di­rec­tion... And then there were the two fam­ily cars he’d writ­ten off within five months of pass­ing his driv­ing test. What was I think­ing to lend him my beloved boat?

‘Take two or three months. Go where you like – but maybe mainly ex­plore rivers?’ I sug­gested. Ber­tie has been a crew mem­ber on

Peter Duck since the age of five, in the same way that I first joined her al­most 60 years ago when I was three. There is, how­ever, an unimag­in­able dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing a child on board and tak­ing sole re­spon­si­bil­ity, par­tic­u­larly if you have a bossy par­ent who likes manag­ing ev­ery­thing her­self. I re­mem­ber my mo­ment

of ut­ter panic soon af­ter we’d bought her back into the fam­ily in 1999 and she was no longer my par­ents’ yacht: she was mine.

It was open­ing her aft locker that did it for me. All those warps – the smell of them! They were proper hairy ones that had come home from Rus­sia with her. I re­mem­bered my fa­ther hav­ing names for some of them: ‘Old Faith­ful’, ‘Young Faith­ful’, ‘New Old Faith­ful’ and so on. They all had dif­fer­ent func­tions but how was I to re­mem­ber which one was which? I’d only ever done as I was told.

Small and handy, al­most

I’ve trained my­self to think of Peter Duck as small and handy. She’s only 28 feet long, an over­sized dinghy re­ally. Look­ing at that locker full of ropes com­pelled me to recog­nise the po­ten­tial forces in­volved – 8 tonnes of boat, sev­eral knots of tide, the wind … I felt hope­lessly in­ad­e­quate and weak.

Per­haps this helped me hand her over? As an­other of my chil­dren had shrewdly re­marked, ‘We know you re­ally love sail­ing Mum, but you’re not ex­actly an ex­pert, are you?’

Per­haps some­thing whis­pered that if I could learn to take re­spon­si­bil­ity – which I have, know­ing my lim­i­ta­tions, then Ber­tie could as well. ‘If not duf­fers…’ and all that?

Peter Duck is a very safe boat, well-adapted for sail­ing sin­gle­handed. There’s no pre­tence that ev­ery­thing can be man­aged from the cock­pit but her decks are wide and her mo­tion is gen­er­ally steady. One of my daugh­ters-in-law spent a week­end on board do­ing Day Skip­per prac­tice and de­scribes Peter Duck as ‘for­giv­ing’.

One of my per­sonal con­fi­dence­sap­ping prob­lems has been deal­ing with the ghosts of for­mer own­ers. Not just Arthur Ran­some, though that his­toric con­nec­tion does make me feel ex­tra con­spic­u­ous when I run her aground. It’s the lares and pe­nates (the house­hold gods) of first my fa­ther and mother then, also, Greg and Ann Palmer, her own­ers from 1987-1999, all of them so knowl­edge­able and com­pe­tent. I used to imag­ine them hov­er­ing over my shoul­der ap­palled by my in­ep­ti­tude. I’ve had to get over that. Wor­ry­ing about what other peo­ple might have done in a sit­u­a­tion is a dis­trac­tion from the de­mands of the sit­u­a­tion it­self and what­ever your boat is try­ing to tell you.

A ques­tion of trust

So I had prom­ise my­self that I was not go­ing to hover over Ber­tie. If he was tak­ing her, then he was re­spon­si­ble. I trusted his ba­sic sea­man­ship; the de­ci­sions needed to be his. I wasn’t go­ing to be there, even in­vis­i­bly. End of.

I’d for­got­ten, hap­pily, that I wasn’t dead and that he pos­sessed a mo­bile phone. It was a tremen­dous plea­sure to be called sev­eral times in the course of his ad­ven­ture, some­times for ad­vice on a good an­chor­ing spot, once for me­chan­i­cal break­down and at other mo­ments sim­ply for him to tell me how lovely it was or to re­count a par­tic­u­lar tri­umph.

He took a hefty pile of books as well as his lap­top and spent the best part of two months sys­tem­at­i­cally ex­plor­ing the Suf­folk and Es­sex rivers, fre­quently spend­ing sev­eral days in a favourite spot, read­ing, writ­ing, row­ing and watch­ing the chang­ing colours of the wa­ter and the sky. His tri­umphs were small ones; ma­noeu­vring sin­gle­handed in and out of ma­rina berths, pas­sage­mak­ing from one river to the next and en­joy­ing some of those stonk­ingly good sails where the old lady bub­bles into life. Those are the sorts of tri­umphs I un­der­stand.

I vis­ited a cou­ple of times and felt tremen­dous pride and glad­ness to see the two of them get­ting on so well. Peter Duck looked neat and work­man­like, and Ber­tie fit­ter and more con­fi­dent. At the end of the 2016 sum­mer he an­nounced, equally sud­denly, that he was go­ing back to univer­sity to fin­ish his de­gree. Which is a good thing be­cause I’ve re­cently re­cal­cu­lated Peter Duck’s an­niver­sary and have de­cided that it’s more prop­erly the sum­mer of 2017, which is 70 years from when her first owner took com­mand. And for now, that owner is still me.

The creeks of the East Coast rivers of­fer a huge amount to ex­plore

Ju­lia and her fam­ily cel­e­brate the re­launch of Peter Duck, with Ber­tie and his grand­mother at the bow

Ju­lia Jones nor­mally cruises Peter Duck around the East Coast rivers

Would you lend your yacht to any of these? Ber­tie is on the right, in the days be­fore he took charge

A beau­ti­ful morn­ing in a glo­ri­ously calm Pye­fleet

Moored up along­side amid the Mal­don mud at the top of the River Black­wa­ter

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