Normal Service will be resumed in due course

16/03/2023 2 By Chris Phillips

Once again I am conscious that I’ve gone a long time without posting on here, and that when I do, therefore, my next post will be a long one. In order to shorten it ever so slightly, I can reassure my millions of avid readers that I am still alive and reasonably well, although, having just received my first ever pair of reading glasses, I am feeling slightly old.

Anyway, in brief: I returned from my last (and final*) trip on Pelican of London just before Christmas, and after spending the Yuletide with my lovely parents in Gosport (they were supposed to be coming up north, but due to my late return we decided that as I would be flying to a London airport I would stay south for a few days), I went home and recovered. I spent January working on the boat – making some good progress with the internal fit-out – before committing myself to two months of study / torture in preparation for my Master Unlimited oral exams. I have not yet sat the exam – that’s at the end of this month – so you could say that in writing this I am procrastinating and not studying. There will be more exciting updates to come once I know the result of the orals, and some of you no doubt already know what the near future will bring for me, but I’d rather announce things slightly nearer the time. Suffice to say that I am extremely busy and somewhat stressed trying to keep all the plates spinning at the moment, some of which are nice plates, with gilded filigree edges, but some of which are unfortunately covered in shit and spraying it around a bit whilst they spin. Nothing drastic though, it just all means that I’m not having much fun at the moment – roll on the end of March when I should get my life back and be able to start playing on the boat again, as well as looking forward to the future.

In the meantime, and my real reason for posting, is that I found this little extract from my past whilst looking for other files on my computer, and re-reading it amused me, particularly the last line. I can’t remember exactly why I wrote it, but it was a snapshot of my feelings during one of my many transatlantic crossings. Enjoy.

The View from the Stern Gallery

From where I sit, which is an extremely rickety and entirely unergonomic armchair at my desk, I crane my neck to look out of the windows to take in the distinctive and unforgettable view of alternately grey sky and rolling blue-grey swell.  It brings me round to thinking about the changing nature of the oceans, and in particular this one.  This is something like my fifth crossing of the North Atlantic (we’ll forget about those interminable months spent below the surface, mooching about waiting for the unthinkable), and each time has been a unique experience.

The first was as a sixteen year-old, invited on board HMS Amazon to follow this exact route home to Devonport from Bermuda, via the Azores.  It was early Autumn, and there were four of us plucked from our two cushy schools in an effort to recruit us into the Royal Navy (as far as I am aware, I was the only one who fell for it), and I remember the warm evenings spent on the flight deck watching clicky movies screened on the hangar doors; I remember the nights when we were invited (unknown to our officer mentors) into the sailors’ messes to test out the various ingenious ways of getting round the “three can” rule and learning some highly imaginative uses of the  “F” word; above all I remember how, even as a green schoolboy, one gets sucked into the life at sea and the routine of a living ship away from the strictures of life ashore.

My second crossing was at the other end of the spectrum, aboard my newly-acquired 37ft ketch Meander, delivering her home to the UK after purchasing her in Maine.  I barely knew the boat, and had sailed with my crew Alec only in Lord Nelson, so it was a trip into the unknown.  We experienced the whole kaleidoscope of conditions, from flat calms to Atlantic gales, but we were in a good ship and in good company, and found a routine to suit the two of us and stuck to it.  Far from greeting two hollow-eyed, bearded hermits on our arrival in Falmouth after 29 days at sea, our welcoming committee (my parents) were utterly stunned to be greeting two well-rested, well-presented, sweet-smelling, clean shaven and sociable young (-ish) men.

This is my third Atlantic crossing in Lord Nelson in the space of 8 months, the last eastbound crossing from Halifax having been mostly under engines with a record for foul winds, the westbound crossing in November / December having been almost entirely under sail via the Cape Verdes from Las Palmas, but all have one thing in common: at sea your world shrinks into a microcosmic society on a fragile platform; occasional glimpses of the outside world come in the form of other ships which come and go in a few moments and interrupt the sameness of the day; otherwise you are alone with your shipmates held together by a common goal and an unshakeable routine to carry you through the days or weeks at sea and the infinite variety of conditions that may be experienced.  You sleep knowing that your shipmates are looking out for the ship and for you, and they can rest easy when it is their turn below, knowing that you are doing the same for them.

If only life ashore were so simple.

* Cryptic, I know, but all will be explained in due course.

Ellenabeich pier at sunset, with Easdale behind