The old man and the golden girl

Does everyone have those days when everything goes wrong? When, in fact, things go wrong from breakfast through ‘til suppertime for days on end?

And yet, while the catalogue of disasters piles up like unopened bills on the hall table, a tiny voice at the back of your mind keeps insisting that at any moment – it could be the very next moment –  something absolutely wonderful is about to happen.

Or is it just me?

I came to Les Sables d’Olonne because it is the world centre for singlehanded sailing. If there was anywhere on earth to launch the French edition of Old Man Sailing, this was it. Only last week, the whole town turned out to celebrate Kirsten Neuschäfer not only winning the Golden Globe singlehanded-round-the-world Race – but becoming the first woman to win any round-the-world sailing event, ever.

And in the process, becoming the single most famous sailor on the planet.

 I had this idea that all I had to do was turn up in Les Sables d’Olonne, and I could somehow siphon off some of the residual excitement and turn it into publicity for what is now called Le vieil homme hisse la voile (apparently, that works better in French).

My one bit of good luck had been running into an Australian in Lymington who had read the blog and came to say hello… actually, he didn’t at first. Instead, he stood on the quay watching me faffing about at the top of the mast, wondering if I would be able to get down again (I had accidentally disconnected myself from all means of support and was hanging on with my knees, so I knew I would be able to get down – just a bit quicker than I hoped).

All of this culminated in the astonishing coincidence that the watcher on the quay had grown up in Australia in the same small town as Don McIntyre, who runs the Golden Globe Race. He could put me in touch. I could ask Don to pass me on to all his media friends. I would be all over the local television news! My picture would be in the paper! The chat show hosts would be lining up their sofas on the dock! This was going to be brilliant!

Actually, no. Don emailed to say that the trouble with sailing and the French media is that there is too much sailing and not enough media. In fact, he hadn’t been able to get a single outlet to review the GGR film…

And as for my offer to send him a copy of the book: apparently, he hasn’t read a book in five years – unless you count the trashy novel on the Atlantic crossing in his Mini 5.80…

So, it is something of an understatement to say that things were not going according to plan. I had emailed everybody I could find on Google. I had asked politely if I might leave leaflets on the counter at the chandlery and the sailmaker (at least that’s what Google Translate said I was asking, it could have been something else.)

And then I got a puncture in my back tyre – and then another one straight after because I must have pinched the new inner tube with the tyre lever when I was changing it. So, I had to walk all the way across town to the repair shop following Google Maps (which meant going by pretty way).

After all of which, would you believe the Amazon parcel with the six copies of the book I had ordered for all those journalists and chat show hosts and reviewers, had not been delivered to the marina office after all.

“But certainly, not at all, for you nothing,” as the girl behind the counter put it.

But see here. Amazon has said my package has been delivered in your box of letters…

“Ah, the box of letters…”

Her colleague went to look.

It was while he was looking that I noticed the woman at the back of the queue – the one with the wild golden curls and the faded T-shirt advertising Epifanes yacht varnish and not pushing in when it wasn’t her turn or demanding this and that of everybody in sight.

There was something terribly familiar about her.

Surely, it couldn’t be Kirsten Neuschäfer herself – only the most famous sailor in the world, the darling of the media, the one person with access to more free publicity than you can shake a fluffy microphone at…

The marina assistant returned holding an Amazon package with my name on it.

I thanked him absent-mindedly, while saying to the patient Epifanes person: “Should I be congratulating you?”

She laughed: “If you must.”

So, I did.

And I gave her a leaflet.

And I told her my story (she did ask).

Then I gave her a book – and inscribed it.

And gave her a whole bundle of leaflets to give to her friends (her influential friends in sailing and the media).

And she was friendly and down-to-earth and thanked me as if she didn’t have every PR person in the universe pressing their products on her.

And she posed with me for a selfie.

When I got back to the boat, there was an email from one Blanche Poisson, of the Les Sables Vendée Journal. She would be very interested to meet me for an interview.

We’re meeting on board on Thursday. She says she speaks some English, but otherwise, M. Google will be our friend.

14 Responses to The old man and the golden girl

  • When you roll out of bed and stub your toe on the way to the head, then a jar of pickles falls out of the refrigerator and covers the cabin sole on pickle juice and bits of glass, you may suspect that this is “one of those days”. This is confirmed when every traffic light is red while driving to the local Chandlers. This portends the chain of small events that will color the rest of your day. Small tests of patience that in relating them to spouse and friends will garner you no sympathy but only little smiles that silently ask; what is your problem? Well, the problem is that there’s no way around it, it is “one of those days”.

  • You jammy dodger!

  • Bravo to Kirsten for becoming the first woman to win a round-the-world SOLO sailing race, but let’s not forget Wendy Tuck, who was the first woman to win a round-the-world sailing race (the 2017-2018 Clipper Round the World race).

    Good luck with your interview tomorrow. I will look for the article in the paper next week.

  • What a lady.
    I was sure you were going to show us how it got worse, not the silver lining.

  • John,your amazing life journey keeps getting better and better. Joie De Vivre

  • Nice one John.

  • Fantastic! Hope you enjoyed the whole experience, by the looks on your face you did!

  • Good on ya john!

  • Wow! You got to meet the Most Famous Sailor in the World!

  • Absolutely brilliant!!
    Thanks for illuminating serendipity
    Three cheers Kirsten

  • Fortuitous, bien sur!
    Bonne chance!

  • Formidable Mon cher ami!

  • Cold market Academy springs to mind JP

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