A lifetime of exciting Christmases
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