A life­time of ex­cit­ing Christ­mases

Yachting Monthly - - COLUMN - PETE GOSS

We’re not look­ing for­ward to Christ­mas in the Ba­hamas, at least, not the be­ing away from fam­ily part of it. It’s go­ing to feel very un­usual. Rather than throw­ing all our re­sources into just one day, we have de­cided to spread them over the year with the kids join­ing us for a fort­night at a time. This thought will sus­tain us on the day.

Mod­ern and, in many cases, free com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­vide an emo­tional bridge that didn’t ex­ist for my par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion. As a child I can re­mem­ber the an­nual call from Aus­tralia when we were lined up for our 30 sec­onds with dis­tant grand­par­ents whose im­age had faded. It is with these con­straints in mind that my heart goes out to the Golden Globe com­peti­tors.

I’ve had a few odd Christ­mases, and the Vendée Globe is up there. It was fright­en­ing and ex­haust­ing as I flogged back into a storm to res­cue Raphael Dinelli. I’ve never seen a boat take such a beat­ing as I sailed to wind­ward; she was shaken so much that my sur­prise Christ­mas pud­ding was dis­cov­ered deep in the guts of the gen­er­a­tor. Our bod­ies were cry­ing out for re­plen­ish­ment so we wolfed it down.

My loneli­est Christ­mas was spent as a Royal Marine locked in a high se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment to be guarded with our lives. Searched on en­try, locked in for two weeks with no com­mu­ni­ca­tions and an out­side world kept at bay by war dogs who roamed freely between ra­zor wire. Like un­der-fed wolves, they eyed us up for din­ner. It was quite aw­ful and ter­ri­bly lonely.

My fa­ther was an agri­cul­tural con­sul­tant and one of our Christ­mases as a child was spent in the wilds of Aden. Christ­mas, from treats to presents, was flown on to the beach by Dakota. I can still re­mem­ber light­ing car tires as wind in­di­ca­tors for the pi­lots and I’ll never for­get the pop­gun I got that year. I also got a friend in the form of a kid goat who would fol­low me ev­ery­where and fed my fas­ci­na­tion as it munched its way through empty ce­ment bags. My lit­tle goat was hard­core.

One of the most fran­tic Christ­mases I have had was just be­fore kayak­ing round Tas­ma­nia, as it co­in­cided with sell­ing our house. We had hired a chalet to cover a home­less pe­riod and it creaked at the seams with all of us hap­pily packed in­side. Box­ing Day started at 0400 to clear the chalet, dump our worldly goods in a barn and drive to Heathrow. Tracey and I were glassy eyed with ex­haus­tion as we said good­bye. She was off to our shack in New Zealand and I was off for a two-month kayak round Tas­ma­nia. We had man­aged to have a proper fam­ily Christ­mas and it had been worth it.

The most anx­ious I have been about Christ­mas was get­ting Spirit of Mys­tery to Cape Town on time. My fam­ily had flown down, and Eliot, my 14-year-old son, was on board the boat with huge ex­pec­ta­tions. He was so des­per­ate to see his Mum for Christ­mas it hurt, but you don’t have a lot of room to speed things up on an 1854 lug­ger. For a month, our daily runs were a roller coaster of optimism or plung­ing de­spair. It seemed we were go­ing to miss it un­til a South­ern Ocean storm lifted our av­er­age. We ar­rived on Christ­mas day, stepped off the boat, stum­bled into a restau­rant and had a fan­tas­tic tra­di­tional din­ner.

Christ­mas is about peo­ple and although we are fac­ing the prospect of dis­tant loved ones this time round, we will not be alone. Sailors are a com­mu­nity bonded by com­mon care and we look for­ward to a fes­tive an­chor­age with like-minded peo­ple.

In a wider sense, Pearl’s crew has been ex­tended through mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions and this col­umn. As such, Tracey and I would like to wish all of you a very Happy Christ­mas. It’s been a plea­sure to write for you.

Like un­der-fed wolves, they eyed us up for din­ner

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