‘Cuir de Russie’ Stephen said, quivering a nostril. ‘A mistake of inexperience’.
Stephen, an interior decorator, is a character in Graham Greene’s short story ‘May we borrow your husband’. Stephen and his partner Tony do just that with their chosen target, a newly wed handsome young man whose scent Stephen sniffs. For the new husband his honeymoon voyage is indeed one of discovery and surprises as he abandons his beautiful wife for the aging decorators.
Our transatlantic crossing also brought some surprises, although not exactly in the same vein as the Graham Greene story. At about 9pm on 7 December, we rounded Pigeon Island and crossed the finish line in Rodney Bay St Lucia. We then recognised a familiar smell, not of ‘Cuir de Russie’, but of the sea. You only smell it when you are near land. This was one of our mistakes of inexperience.
After nearly 16 days at sea we were elated to see land from about 30 miles away. The contours of St Lucia were spectacular, the conical Pithons rising over 700m set against many layers of smaller hills with the sunset behind them. About 15 miles out we were within cellular range. Eight relatively sane individuals compulsively stabbed at the mobiles that they had barely touched in over two weeks. Suddenly we had to look at them every few minutes. Being free of this tyranny was one of the undoubted benefits of the trip. Conversations are very different when the mobile does not take precedence.
A few days out from St Lucia we started seeing a few other boats, and then on our last day, the first plane in 15 days. The other boats and the plane were intrusions into our world of phosphorescent plankton and galaxies at night and dolphins, flying fish, birds and Sargasso by day.
Unlike the unsuspecting husband in the Greene story, we did not undergo major conversions. But there were surprises. You think you know someone after 35 years, but you don’t. Being cooped up with no escape for a couple of weeks should be obligatory for prospective couples. More mundanely, if no-one is watching, do you go to the fridge and rip off a chunk of meat with your hands? Or do you swig directly from the large carton of fruit juice. Well, after a while at sea, most do this (and more) in full view. But there were some welcome surprises too. Some, who had not been known to do so beforehand, even read novels and poetry during the trip. We talked and we reflected. You can learn stuff about yourself even when you are in your late 50s or early 60s.
Some who have crossed the Atlantic single-handed, call the Las Palmas to St Lucia voyage the “girl’s route” because it is relatively benign. Well maybe. But one of the boats in the rally, the Duffy, was dismasted, while the yacht Magritte had to be abandoned. A cargo vessel diverted and took the crew on board safely. So there was some relief that we arrived safely , having only lost one sail and had to make a few running repairs.
We came 9th out of 21 in our division and 11th on handicap. We did manage to sail more miles (3198) than any other boat in our division. Heaven knows why….
In an age where there are prizes for almost every participant, we won a prize for crossing the finish line 30th (out of some 220 participants) and thus achieving the feat of matching our race ID number of 30, coincidentally on the 30th anniversary of the race.
Would we do it again? Yes, because it was a magnificent experience. But perhaps not in 2016.
Thank you to everyone who donated. We have raised £40,000 for IntoUniversity and it would be good to get to £50,000. There is still time…….