My most memorable day at sea (John‘s story)

(This article won a writing competition organised by Saga and PBO, and we won a holiday in Egypt, courtesy of Saga holidays).



John Davison

It is a sad fact that many men sail alone. Their wives and girlfriends preferring the comforts of home to life spent at a crazy angle in a boat. That had been my experience. So when, in later life, I had a second chance with a new lady-friend who had never sailed before I was determined to make her first day out in my Elizabethan 29, Rally, a truly memorable occasion. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

I kept Rally on a buoy in the river Mersey where the tides are funnelled in from the Irish Sea, reaching heights of 32 ft. I chose my day carefully and we drove to the slipway in early summer sunshine. The outboard started first time and we set off for the half mile journey to Rally.

Leaving the dinghy on the buoy, I was soon able to hoist sail and take Brenda downriver for a view of the famous waterfront.

Apart from some nervousness as we heeled over, Brenda seemed to be enjoying the sailing, the sunshine and the scenery. I kept my fingers crossed. I did not want her to take any part in the 'work' of sailing on this first occasion. I also wanted to show off my skills, so, returning to the mooring at slack tide I fixed an all round line from the bows to the cockpit and confidently went alongside, leaned over from the cockpit and clipped the line to the buoy. I then nonchalantly walked forward, pulling in the line as I went.

My complacency was shattered by a scream and looking back I saw the dinghy alongside the boat, rapidly filling with water whilst Brenda was leaning over clutching the outboard motor in a frantic attempt to stop it disappearing altogether.

I rushed aft and succeeded in preventing the dinghy from sinking and straightened with a sigh of relief only to find that Rally was no longer attached to the buoy but had drifted along the trot of moorings where she was swept across the bows of another boat.

I had managed to keep my cool throughout this process and Brenda was very quiet. I am not sure whether this was a good or bad sign, and we still had to extricate ourselves. I was reluctant to put the engine in gear as I suspected that the painter might be round the propeller. I discovered later that the cause of our mishap was that the painter had caught on the log propeller, but that was no help to me now.

Our salvation came in the shape of a passing motorboat. An agile young man took our line then leapt onto the foredeck of the other boat and emptied the water from the dinghy and untangled the painter.

I was then able to motor back to the buoy and this time accepted Brenda's help in recovering the pick-up and after a couple of tries she succeeded in getting it aboard. I could see that by this time she was beginning to shake a little and I did speculate about my chances of even seeing her again, let alone getting her aboard a boat, and we still had to get back to shore.

The outboard refused to start. I cleaned the plugs and points without success and by now the tide was changing. My only option was to row, and row hard. The oars were only meant for emergencies and had been little used. They had fitted rowlocks and the fact that one of these didn't fit properly had never been a problem. It was now and the wretched thing came out of its socket as I hastily rowed inshore to get out of the tidal run.

“Put it back! Put it back!” I shouted, forgetting that boats and all things nautical were still a mystery to Brenda.

“Where do I put it?” she asked.

“In the rowlock, woman, where do you think?” I cried, with great forbearance (I thought).

The rowlock was replaced and the rest of my frantic row to the slipway passed in stony silence.

This might have been the end of a beautiful friendship but Brenda was sufficiently bitten by the sailing bug to forgive my outburst and to sail with me again.

We are now married and have another, larger boat in which we have sailed in Britain and abroad. Brenda has gained her International Certificate of Competence and I have gained a sailing partner.