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Prepared and waiting for the tide

Or so Sam Llewellyn thinks until he realises he’s forgotten something…

There is a pile of stuff next to the boat on the village pontoon. There are supermarket bags and nets of onions and a couple of fish boxes full of tools and screws and epoxy and stove alcohol and a sleeping bag and some pillows and an armful of books including a copy of Bleak House by Charles Dickens for use during gales, all lying in the sun. Deep breath. It is time to start loading it on.

The cabin is hot and small and (once all that stuff is in it) very full. A place for everything, and everything in its place. Milk and butter in the lockers below the waterline, for coolness. Tea next to the kettle next to the stove, for convenience. Pump handles and winch handles under the bridgedeck, for handiness. Mooring lines and fenders and fishing lines in the lazarette, for the sake of a salt-free cabin. But where shall we put the box with the glue and Monel wire and whipping twine? In the shelf by the companionway, for goodness' sake. Like last year, and the year before.


There is an edginess about it all, but it is no good being impatient. We cannot leave until the top of the tide, and there is an hour to go. Order and system are beginning to prevail. But what is this lump of stuff in the forepeak locker?  An empty petrol can. Why? Petrol lives in the lazarette... Heavy thump of the heart. I have only forgotten the petrol.

Quick. Up on deck into the sun. And there on the quay is old Georgie, so it is hello, and where are you going, and boat's looking nice, first time out this year? Very good to see Georgie, of course, but the tide is slackening under the pontoon and the service station is a mile down the road and there is much left to do. Georgie has been a sailor, so she understands this. The three small children who take her place do not, and why should they? There are plenty of questions. Where do you sleep, is there a lavatory, do you take a dog with you sometimes?

And eggs?

It is of course necessary to answer. But it is also necessary to get to the service station before it closes. Borrow a bicycle, wobble off, four gallons, wobble back again loaded with combustibles, and at the last minute think, eggs. Get eggs. Return bike. It must be teatime, because the pontoon is suddenly empty. Down at the end the boat looks small, because it is. So does the pile beside it, because most of it is on board now. Nearly there.

The tide has turned now, and the ebb is making little whirlpools on the rudder. Sling the eggs into the cabin, because the world is getting too exciting for any more packing and they will get put away later, or possibly broken. The small breeze is blowing off the pontoon. Haul on the main halyard. Up goes the mainsail, bow line taken back to the cockpit, bight round the cleat on the pontoon. Off with the stern line. The boat swings, lies bow-on to the pontoon, head to wind.

All aboard at last

Let go the bow line. The cockpit sole feels suddenly loose and free underfoot. The pontoon  drifts away. Uncleat the jib reefing line, haul on the sheet. The big cream sail cracks out. Hold it aback while the world spins; and here we are sailing down the Kyle. The children have finished their tea and are back crabbing on the pontoon. They look up and wave, shrinking with distance. Arran lies blue and jagged across the horizon ahead. At last, at long, long last, we are on our way.

Sam Llewellyn, editor The Marine Quarterly

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