October 1998, I get a phone call from Burty, we pop out for the odd pint together at this stage in our lives, we used to be best mates at school, socialised in hundreds of pubs together after we left school, were inseparable for many years of drunken-ness during our teens and twenties, then wives and families came along and by the late nineties it was the occasional Thursday night pint “over his end” or “over my end” being that we live on opposite sides of the city now.
But this phone call is slightly different to the usual one.
“Fancy going yachting ?” he asks
“Huh ?” I reply, for yachting has never before been on the agenda until now
“Yachting, sailing, long weekend, Lake Windermere, it’ll be a laugh”
He tells me the date, I can’t make it because the same day that the long yachting weekend is supposed to start I will be landing at Gatwick having spent the previous week on business in Barbados – what a cosmopolitan life I used to lead back in those days – we were rich too, have I ever mentioned that we used to be rich – please emphasis the words “used to be” in that sentence.
We talk some more, he’s planning on leaving for Windermere just after lunch on that day, I arrive at Gatwick at 6am, you know, there’s half a chance that I can get back to Leeds in time, what the hell I hear myself saying, count me in.
“Thats £75 then” he tells me right at the end.
There’s six of us, its the first week in November, the first week of the winter season when the boatyards on Windermere all close but if you know where to ask there is a boatyard that will rent out its craft really cheap for three nights, Friday to Monday, £450 for a 40 foot ocean-going racing yacht although this one goes nowhere near the ocean these days, land locked as it is on the 11 miles long Lake Windermere, its booked, a done deal.
One of the crowd has the requisite yacht masters licence, the rest of the party are all architects and this one had taken a couple of years off after graduating to work in the Med and gain his masters licence, its only use these days is to take some of his mates to Windermere in the cheap season and get pissed every day while sailing up and down the lake looking for more pubs, sounds fair enough to me.
I don’t sleep much on the overnight flight from Barbados but we touch down roughly on time and I’m out of the airport before 7am just in time to join the London commuter traffic around the M25 and then head north on the M1, on these regular drives from Gatwick after overnight flights I always stop at least three times for caffeine hits but I’m back in Leeds by lunchtime, just long enough to say hello to the wife, empty my suitcase of dirty washing, fill an overnight bag with clean clothes and leave to pick up Burty, you can probably tell from this that I missed a lot of my two kids growing up around this time and unfortunately didn’t seem to care at the time either, the time was spent making money, it seemed to be important, I know now that it wasn’t but we live and learn.
We arrived at the Lake around 3pm, the other lads were already aboard a superb white single masted racing yacht, I’d go into the technical specs but I haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, suffice to say that it looked exactly like those yachts that do the Whitbread Round the World race, this particular one was also up for sale at the time, second hand with no navigation gear on board they wanted £100,000 for it – it was going to be our beer palace for three days.
Space below decks was limited, a table wrapped around the mast with a bench seat either side , a small galley stove, a cabin up front that apparently slept two people but was actually wedge shaped and consisted simply of a raised platform with a wedge shaped mattress on it, and two cabins to the rear which were actually the space underneath the cockpit above, all three sleeping holes were supposed to contain two people, this was going to be cosy then.
Simon, the one with the masters licence whispered to us on the jetty to stop arsing about and look as though we all knew what we were doing as the yacht owner was watching us from the office, we were very sensible in carrying our bags and provisions aboard, alcohol carefully concealed in anonymous cardboard boxes, we put on our lifejackets (very sensible see), and then I and another were sent back onto the jetty to untie us fore and aft (see how good I am remembering all these sailor-terms) while Si started up the engine and got ready to reverse us out onto the Lake, hopefully without hitting anything on the way.
Engine started he looked up, checked with us both that we were ready, the lad holding the aft rope threw it on board then climbed into the cockpit, I stood there holding my rope wondering where the hell I was supposed to get on for the front of the boat was higher than the jetty and had a rail all the way around it.
“You’ll have to jump as soon as you let go” Si shouted for the boat was already trying to move backwards
My cry of “Jump where ?” was lost as I let go of the rope and they shot off backwards without me, I’d only been here less than half an hour and I was stranded ashore already, abandoned by me crew mates, aye me hearty.
They had to come back for me, it was a bit embarrassing and the owner watching from the office window was probably having second thoughts at this point but they reversed up to the jetty just long enough for me to step aboard into the cockpit and then we were off again.
And the adventure started …