New Tender


The boat is chocked in the yard, and the workshop is too cold to inhabit, and it is dark. So it is time to sit at the screen and think about a Christmas present for her. She wants a new tender, for the old one has developed many untraceable leaks. An inflatable, probably. Then again, why not build a pram dinghy in clinker ply like the one we had ages ago and sold like idiots somewhere in Holland?

No. Building a pram is a sticky business, and epoxy will not cure in the cold, and the pram is a brute to stow. Besides, the children love an inflatable. Particularly in summer. A slow but pleasing sail, no more than four hours. Slide into the bay, go head to whatever breeze there is. The anchor plunges down in a comet-tail of bubbles. Fall back, dig in, and let the revels commence. 

The older part of the crew is relaxing in the cockpit with a guitar and tomorrow's passage plan. The young entry, having demonstrated their skill at rigging a spinnaker pole with uphaul, downhaul, sheet and guy all complete, are swinging in mighty arcs over the glittering blue, letting go at the extremity of the swing, plunging in and splashing back to the leaky old inflatable, which is hanging off the transom, oozing air, to do it all over again. 

It is a decent-sized tender, this inflatable, eight feet long, and it is surprising how many children you can get into it, and how much punishment it has managed to take down the years. As the spinnaker-pole frolics lose their snap and fizz it grows visibly squashy. Pretty soon the sun will be ducking behind the headland that stands between us and the west, and unless something is done there will be grizzling about sleeping bags prickly with salt.

 So it is a few swipes of the pump, all aboard the tender, and row to the beach, which is white, no people. A pool of water has formed where the burn has been dammed up by the tide. The water of the pool is warm with the day's sun, amber-coloured with peat, soft and fresh. It washes off the salt, and the children come running back to the inflatable for a quick swipe with a dry towel. Then it is away back to the boat, two of them rowing side by side, racing the creases in the softening tubes. 

Supper, frankfurters in buns and mackerel caught today. As the sun sets the western sky on fire the crew gathers round in the balmy evening air while tonight's reader declaims Moonfleet to the assembled company. It is summer, sighs the tender, in an almost imperceptible hiss of escaping air. Soon someone will come and blow me up again. They always do.

But a gale of air has gone through that tender during its long and violent life, and the time for summery inflations is past. Now it is winter, and the ground is cold and hard, but not as cold and hard as the thoughts of the tender's owner, sitting in front of a computer looking at advertisements: transom, roundtail, or perhaps, well, what about the pram dinghy after all? The transom is a brute to fold. The roundtail is not much fun with an engine on the back end. A pram, well, romantic, but epoxy, cold weather, effort, stickiness, see above. All right, then. Leave it to Fate. Roll the dice. Low for transom, middle for roundtail, double six for pram. 

The dice roll. They clatter off the table and under the filing cabinet, among the fluff and the bits of post-splice rope's ends and nameboard whittlings. Can anyone be bothered to go grovelling after them? 

Not me. We will decide about tenders next week. Maybe. 

Sam Llewellyn, Editor of Marine Quarterly.