17 November 2008

Sea Legs

If I raise my eyes from the TV coverage of the Vendée Globe single-handed yacht race, I can see the boats heading out of Gouvia Bay for more exciting waters.

Actually, from the sailors I've met from the marina, they're more likely heading laden with Mythos beer for some calm cove, there to get sloshed before heading back with tales that the waves were this high, the spinnaker billowed thus, and the rest.

When I was a pipsqueak Swallow & Amazonian in 1950s Hong Kong, most of my dad's government cadet cronies had chosen the hardship far east posting because of the sailing it offered and a bright young lad could usually get a crewing most weekends.

If you were accomplished enough and parents allowed, you might even get invited on the Hong Kong-Manila race.

Mon dieu, those must have been the days: certainly before only a lunatic would risk the pirates that later roamed those seas and money spoiled the amateur spirit.

Speaking of money, the late 1960s saw me as greenhorn publicist for the noble house of Cassell & Co Ltd, publishers of Churchill and Monsarrat among others.

Also of an abrasive and far from jolly jack tar called Robin Knox-Johnston whose story of his attempt on the solo round-the-world record we had agreed to publish.

We needed backing, editor/RK-J sailing buddy Ken Parker had rounded up some moneyed suits, and off we went to Robin's Thameside houseboat to introduce everyone.

Knowing Robin's inability to suffer fools, Ken and I were nervous as hell that he'd take contempt at some remark and lose the deal.

There we were, sipping our tea and everything going well when Robin leaned back in his chair just as a river boat went past setting up a mild wash that nevertheless tipped him flat on his back.

So, four pinstripes, two publishers, none of whom had even held on to the table, while there on the planks was the man we were entrusting with a large amount of money to sail single-handed thru considerably rockier waves.

Robin picked himself up:

"Whoops, that was a bit embarrassing," he said with a grin and we went on with business.

We got the dosh, Robin went on to victory, and 'A World of my Own' was a major seller, recouping all our money and more.

Good times.

1 comment :

Sibadd said...

I still prefer Joshuah Slocum's stopping voyage round the world in Spray. RKJ's circumnavigation was a magnificent accomplishment and RKJ is a most engaging hero, but fancy travelling on the greatest freeway in the world without visiting anywhere. I knew an old Irish topman, used sit around Lymington Town Quay. I asked him what he though of Francis Chichester. "Mad. It was bad enough going round the Horn with 150 men and he goes and does it on his own!"