I am hoping that people will read this and say: “Ah, yes. Been there… done that.” If not, I am going to feel an awful fool.
Because it’s happened again: I arrived back from the family skiing trip to La Plagne – it was great, thank you; perfect weather all week and not too warm, so lovely spring snow.
Back in Grenada’s Prickly Bay, a charming Frenchman who was remarkable in speaking less English than I speak French gave me a lift back to the boat from the dinghy dock at the One Love restaurant. I would have invited him aboard for a drink, but since our conversation would have been conducted through Google Translate, I waved him off into the darkness with a stilted “Merci Monsieur!”
Then I turned to open the companionway.
I have a new combination lock on the companionway. I bought it, I think, in the Cape Verdes after inadvertently scrambling the numbers on the old one and locking it in perpetuity (fortunately, it was not attached to anything at the time).
The new one is a cheap, shiny affair with not only numbers but also an exclamation mark, ampersand, plus and minus symbols and heaven knows what else. Apparently, this increases the possible combinations into the stratosphere.
But I knew the correct one. I had no doubt about it at all. I use it every day – and while my memory might be a tad idiosyncratic on occasions, I was 100% certain I had this right.
But for the life of me, I couldn’t get the blasted thing open.
The last time this happened was in Baltimore (the Irish one). Indeed, I think I may have written about it since it was the occasion I met Tom Fisher. He was passing in his dinghy after one of the many Jester Challenge parties. Did he, by any chance, have a torch? My phone was flat. I couldn’t read the numbers.
We ended up sitting over the rum bottle until the early hours – the first of many convivial occasions.
So you may wonder why – apart from the opportunity of widening my social circle – I choose to have combination locks in the first place. Why not hide a spare key under the gas bottle like everyone else?
Well, I tried that – back in the 70s. On the one occasion when I needed it, I found it rusted into a solid lump twice its normal size and obviously useless without a jam jar and a bottle of penetrating oil – and that was providing I felt like sitting in the cockpit for 24 hours waiting for it to dissolve back to its normal size. In the end, I rowed over to the boatyard and borrowed a set of bolt croppers.
This time, with everything shut (even the One Love), I considered the chances of hailing a passing dinghy. But Prickly Bay is not Baltimore. Dinghies here do not putter about at three knots. They plane at twelve knots, 15hp Mercurys screaming. Standing on the foredeck, waving the torch on my phone would somehow fail to hack it.
But wait: What about Jock? Jock would be here. Jock is a Canadian who has been anchored in Prickly Bay for nearly a decade. Very occasionally, he makes forays to places like Martinique – except for this summer which he has spent growing things on the anchor and waiting for a credit card to arrive. I had his number because he had offered a lift in the event that I should fail to find a charming Frenchman. I called Jock. He would have a hacksaw. He built his own boat, for heaven’s sake.
Jock arrived ten minutes later in his curious square dinghy – also home-built. He handed up a canvas bag full of hacksaw, penetrating oil, and, I believe, some sort of burglar’s jemmy.
Ten minutes after that, we were sitting under the stars with the rum bottle between us.
He was not at all impressed with my combination lock. He had a long list of possible hiding places for a key. But I wouldn’t hear of it. After all, what would happen to my social life?