When you get old, there is great satisfaction in re-visiting youthful passions. When I was a teenager I discovered the writer Nevil Shute who, most famously, wrote A Town Like Alice and On the Beach.
Now I have joined a Facebook group called Shutists and discovered several of his books that I knew nothing about. In particular, Pilotage, written in 1924, which centred around the author’s twin passions of sailing and aviation. The publishers felt these were not of general interest and rejected the manuscript with a politely encouraging note. However, they did publish his next effort which was full of spies and murders and, to my mind, not nearly as good.
The “lost novels” were found among Shute’s papers after his death in 1960 and published in a single volume since they contained some of the same characters. One passage, describing sailing in the 1920s, I found so evocative that I posted it on a sailing group and it seemed to strike a chord:
There was nothing to do on deck; he remained in the cockpit till the vessel had found her position and was riding quietly to her anchor; then he went below and trimmed the riding light. He spent an hour working in his little vessel, an hour of occupation and comparative happiness that carried him on till after dark. He trimmed every lamp in the ship, filled the tanks of the engine, cleaned the Primus stove, set his riding light on the forestay, pumped out the vessel, unpacked his bag and arranged his clothes in the tiny cupboards, put the patent log in a safe place with a bottle of rum and another one of turpentine to keep it company. Then he laid his supper very elaborately and supped off cocoa, bully beef, and a boiled egg, topping up with bread and jam. He scraped the mildew off the top of the jam and deposited it in the slop-bucket; he was particular about what he ate.
The ensuing discussion got me thinking about the pleasure of just being on your boat and pottering about doing the sort of things which, in a house, you would consider boring domestic chores.
At the moment, I have no choice but to be on my boat. I arrived in Liverpool to see my son who is studying at the University here. No sooner had I passed the bar buoy than he sent me a text saying that one of the staff in the bar where he works part-time had tested positive for COVID and now he had to be tested too.
Providing he gets the all-clear, we will meet for dinner on Monday. He apologised for having to make me wait another five days.
“No problem,” I replied. “I have all the time in the world…”
And I do. I am anchored in the river opposite the marina (and therefore not paying daily charges) and I spent the whole of yesterday pottering and tinkering and as perfectly content as Nevil Shute’s 1920’s yachtsman.
I re-fitted the foot of the main into the boom track where the clew had pulled free. While I was at it I marked the halyard to ensure that in future I let it off just the right amount for reefing…and while I was about that, I simplified the lazyjacks which had caused so much trouble for the old sail and had me sewing for eight hours en-route to Rockall.
I glued the piece of wooden trim back onto the galley where I had stepped on it during the passage up from Falmouth. I wriggled into the engine bay to tighten the stern gland and, while I was there, topped up the oil in the gearbox – and for good measure, checked the engine oil as well. Then there was the first of the winter supply of charcoal to be decanted into paper bags – and the chimney to sweep – that’s done by dropping the pin from the old anchor shackle down from the top with a piece of line dragging a kitchen scouring pad behind it.
I spent a happy half hour experimenting with new ways to stop the halyards slapping and, I must say I’m pleased with the result.
Not half as pleased, mind you, as I am about inventing a new knot for attaching a temporary headsail sheet when poling out. Yes, I’ve looked it up and didn’t find anything like it. We shall see if it works better than the reef knot which shook loose when there was no tension on it. Only then shall I claim my place in history.
And there was more: I removed the eyelet for the cockpit grating which was stopping the petrol can fitting into its chocks, I investigated the overheating trouble with the engine, cleaned the saloon hatch, re-distributed the stores from the bilges to the ready-use lockers, mopped up the puddle from the leaking washing-up liquid bottle, threw away two jars of mouldy peanut butter, investigated the fo’c’sle locker and discovered a bag of very soggy onions, a somewhat suspect sweet potato and a perfectly good butternut squash…
By the time I was ready to change out of work clothes for the evening and sit down with a beer at six o’clock, I wouldn’t have given you tuppence for indolence.