Three Men (and Seven Women) in a Boat

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Three Men (and Seven Women) in a Boat

Apologies for the radio silence due to a week’s sailing, and let me tell you after a week bobbing around on a boat I am now a dab hand at radio procedure. I can “Over” and “Out” with the best of them, though I am reliably informed that “Over and Out” as a combined phrase marks you out as a sad landlubber. It’s my observation that sailing is filled with rules like this—not to mention vocabulary. For example, if somebody in normal life said, “Tighten the Vang” to me, I’d be giving them a very nasty look indeed.

This is the fourth year that we have headed up to the Whitsunday Islands just off the Australian Great Barrier Reef in early October. It is the most stunning region in which to sail, with forested islands dropping steeply down to pristine beaches and rocky coastlines. The snorkeling is fabulous; at times you float in a cloud of fish and this year a turtle cut across me so close that we both jumped. The only slight downside is that owing to the very low risk of potentially deadly jellyfish we all end up wearing stinger suits. This year we kitted ourselves out in some all-in-one black numbers complete with hoods, gloves, and socks. Suffice to say, we looked like a bizarre cross between a SAS troupe and a band of ninjas. Vanity prevents me posting a photo of myself in the kit, provisionally entitled Thing One.

This year we managed to persuade another family to join us for the week. I think we all approached the great nautical adventure with some trepidation; there is something unnerving about the thought of squeezing ten people into the type of space more suited to an intimate embrace than a full on dual family holiday. It had all the potential for a sink-or-swim situation on the friendship front. However, I have to report we managed to survive what we later discovered were common identified make-or-break situations for boat discord, namely snoring (though this one is a hands up from Husband as I am sure it wasn’t me), dodging chores, inability to cope with boat loos and their quirks, on which note I have a vivid memory of one of the Drama Queens at a tender age emerging from a pub loo in the U.K. after a week’s sailing and asking in a loud voice what she should do with the used loo paper. It’s amazing how a small child’s voice can penetrate a beery haze. We did, however, break the record this year on amount of water used; the high teenage girl ratio ensured multiple options on the shampoo/conditioner front. We also might have gone for the record in terms of cases of wine delivered to boat.

In the enthusiasm of the booking the boat, I overlooked the key point that the sleeping arrangements were going to ensure Drama Queen No.1 was going to be bunking down on the saloon table—a convertible table, though if it was a car we’d be talking a convertible Lada rather than Porsche in terms of comfort. She had baulked initially at the thought she might be sharing said table with small boy, however by the end of the week I worked out that owing to nightly movements of children/skipper/and parents outed from their own berth by said children, all scruples had vanished and she ended up sharing the table with at least four out of the potential nine candidates on a rotating basis.

The downside was that the weather, that after three perfect years of blue skies and dazzling sunshine we rather took for granted, was at times a tropical grey monsoonal sky with lots of wind and rain. The upside was that for the first time we saw whales, a mother and calf played around close to our isolated anchorage. Sitting in the dinghy, it was so quiet you could hear the exhalations as the whales spouted. At risk of sounding like an American Express advert—priceless