Here is my grandfather in 1920 – he’s the little fellow in the front row on the right. He has chartered the gaff schooner Xenia for Cowes Week and invited his friends (the one in the middle – the only one not cross legged, with the cigarette and the supercilious air – he went to prison for fraud).
My Uncle Dudley is the younger of the two boys, clearly very uncomfortable sitting on the lap of the rather dodgy-looking gent clutching the wheel. Dudley was to be killed on his 21st birthday on the Kingston by-pass in his birthday MG with his girlfriend beside him.
The reason I show you this is because I have now achieved something the Grandfather wanted so very desperately but never quite managed.
The whole point of his rather expensive summer holiday was to get himself an invitation to the Royal Yacht Squadron. The squadron was where the gentry mingled. The King had been Commodore until his coronation in 1901 and still never missed “The Week”.
The Grandfather instructed Xenia’s professional skipper to anchor in Cowes Roads as close as physically possible to the royal yacht.
Then, every morning after breakfast, he would appear on deck in his white trousers and reefer jacket, his perky little yachting cap perched on his head and train his spyglass alternately on Britannia and the Squadron steps, looking for the pinnace that would put out bearing an invitation.
It never came.
The trouble, of course, was that The Grandfather was “trade”. He was a solicitor who had made his money untangling the expensive contractual and romantic difficulties of the Edwardian England’s stars of stage and… well, just stage in those days.
When I was 15, I earned my very first pay packet sorting out the firm’s old files – except I spent far too much time reading them and poring over the sepia photographs of yachts and mistresses.
Anyway, the reason for telling you all this and reproducing the photograph which hangs in Samsara’s cabin to show me where my aspirations really should lie, is because I have achieved that which was denied my grandfather – an invitation to The Squadron.
This week I stayed there as a guest of the Royal Yacht Squadron Book Club.
Yes, I’m impressed too.
It is difficult not to be impressed by the Royal Yacht Squadron. Everywhere you look there are photographs of the crowned heads of Europe and framed letters from Nelson, brass cannons, and silverware – more silverware than seems entirely practical.
They gave me the Vice Commodore’s bedroom. This is unbelievably sumptuous – not in the style of a no no-star hotel but rather as Windsor Castle might be considered sumptuous: The best of everything but no television or minibar. Instead a full-sized bookcase full of sailing classics (from Down Channel by R.T. McMullen all the way up to Lord Strathcarron’s recent biography of Francis Chichester).
The Chairman of the book club is Martin Thomas, the editor of that enduring essential of every ship’s library Heavy Weather Sailing. He is also the former commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, current Commodore of the Royal London Yacht Club (need I go on?)
It turns out that he is a fan of Old Man Sailing – and more particularly, The Good Stuff which features some of the races we did back in the 1980s when he was sailing the Sadler 29 Jenny Wren and I trailed along behind in Largo.
I cannot tell you how gratifying it is to attend a book club dinner: The members take it in turns to say nice things about the book and the author sits there eating a splendid dinner and drinking some excellent wine while trying to appear self-deprecating but secretly bursting with pride.
The Good Stuff is available on Amazon in Kindle format, paperback and Audible (stow it between H.W. Tilman and M. Wylie Blanchet.)