Missing the Buoy

href=”https://shiponshore.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/scanned_pictures_0013.jpg”>Missing the BuoyMISSING THE BUOY
Mooring buoy number 3 in Portsmouth Harbour was a very large object indeed. Usually appearing as a black and robust floating cylinder; a permanent feature in the landscape. On that January day, in a gale of wind it was cork-like and almost awash with every gust. HMS Glamorgan of 6 thousand tons crept through the cold towards the buoy without a tug escort. As `buoy jumpers`, Sharkey and I would be passed a line secured to a large wire rope in a bid to secure our ship. We approached in the ships whaler, leapt aboard the black monster in desperate fashion and with the grey bows of our ship looming above, quickly pulled on the heaving line attached to the picking up rope. We became aware that our ship had begun to drift sideways; a change in the wind speed and direction caused her to move sideways at an alarming speed, and in that harbour she was a confined giant and helpless. Together we fought to bring in the line, conscious of the gap opening between us. Alarmed faces aboard the warship looked down and willed us on. We were now standing with our feet awash on the bouy labouring to retrieve the submerged rope from Davy Jones. Back on the forecastle of the Glamorgan, several men paid out the wire as fast as they could. We paused; I remember thinking that we would never be able to do it. Salt water mixed with blood on wet sisal and we looked at each other knowing intuitively it would be our last attempt. Seconds later, a large spring hook emerged out of the frozen depths covered in black mud and eventually, with almost super human reserve we hooked on to that enormous shackle.
Later on that day in the relative luxury and privacy of our Captain’s cabin, our efforts were rewarded with small talk and a `tot` of rum by our skipper: Our labours that day avoided the disastrous consequences of missing the bouy.
“Your swinging the lamp!” is what we used to say to other sailors when they would spin us a yarn. It seemed the Royal Navy and its gratuitous issue of lamp swinging was only the beginning …or was it?
When I reflected on my experiences with all things connected with getting afloat and the tales, what sprung to mind was not the most dramatic. True, being attacked and shot at on a run ashore or venturing into the jungle to find head hunting pirates or rescuing the flight crew from a sinking helicopter in shark infested waters and crossing an ocean in an open boat, may at first seem a far better lamp to swing! No! What spung to mind was quite benign but was the source of it all for me, an old wooden box, in the back yard of the terrace house I grew up in.
As a boy, I played in the allyways of a small coastal town with a tidal creek; the North Sea beckoned! My Father had also been in the Royal Navy, and although he did not usually speak about the war (he was involved in the highest VC awarded action of WW2!), I would encourage him to tell me about his experiences. Now as a landlocked fifty-something myself, I can understand his frustrations being `on the beach`, his retreats into passed adventures and share his aspirations. Not owning a boat at the time, I recall his struggles as the bills fell upon the door mat; never getting enough money together to buy a boat, let alone build one. Like a squirrel, he was adding to his hoard of lumber with pieces of mahogany and plywood, they were stashed away in the hope that one day, life would be kind, and give him back some time to realise the project in his head. I took after him in that self-same struggle to get afloat with limited means.
As austerity looks as though it is here to stay, there are those that look mournfully at their floating money-sucking ventures and maybe wondered if it was worth the sacrifice; standing under a freezing cold shower burning ten pound notes springs to mind! But these concerns did not trouble a six year old boy. I was going to sea in that wooden pallet box and long before donning bellbottoms had plans to navigate around the British Isles, how hard could it be! All I would have to do is keep the land on my left! After talking to a friend however he said I would need a map. So with my school atlas and a compass in my shoe was there anything stopping me? Unfortunately there was and it was not my Mum! I realised she would never allow my adventure anyway but as long as I was back for tea, she would never know where I was going would she? No, the problem, as any vessel owner appreciates, especially a wooden one, is watertight integrity…stopping the leaks and staying afloat!
“Dad…DAD! How can you make a wooden box float?” Long before the internet and single parent family`s became the norm, Dads were the source of all knowledge….
“Pitch!” came the respone from behind the crossword puzzle in the newpaper and cigarette fog. But my heart sunk together with all my plans when the man in the corner shop said they did not sell the stuff! “What you want it for son?” I could not believe he told my Mum my plan! I never liked him after that. So I never did get afloat in that wooden box, but I still have the flag I made for her, it proudly flies every year at Blakeney above the topsail of my little ship. For although I can swing the lamp as good as any other Jolly Jack, I believe that wooden box was my first adventure afloat, even though it never kissed a wave, and together with inhaling paint fumes amid a pile of wood shavings in my Dads cellar workshop and that unfinished boat…..dreams were born.
Whether you sail in a small dinghy or a super yacht, being afloat is more a state of mind. Here in the shed I find solace from the distractions indoors, and reconcile the fact: Unlike my father, I do venture afloat more readily that he ever could. Next to this shed I have constructed an enormous boat house that cost me nothing and is entirely made from old wooden pallet boxes! But inside and tucked up for winter is the most amazing craft the world has ever seen! She sails occaisionaly on high days and holidays but floats all the time in my mind. So if you are dreaming of getting afloat it is a wonderful thing…dreaming that is. But the reality of being afloat is what swings those lamps and in my case they are polished copper and brass with a real flame! Last summer, alongside a busy public quay`somewhere`, a significant number of people were very complimentary about my modest vessel. It was clear to me their perception was yacht=money, but in my case this was misplaced.
For many people getting afloat and remaining buoyant can be a very expensive even prohibitive activity. But it does not have to be. For me, It has been like that struggle on that buoy but for the present time being I seem to have it sussed – almost down to a fine art: missing the buoy is no longer an option! So next time you see a vessel at anchor and see a lamp swinging in her rigging, don’t presume the owners wealthy, believe me I`m not.

Annekie sailing on the Norfolk Broads


Bottom picture is Annekie 2 (downsized-the smaller the boat the more you use it!)