I was at Hotel St-James in beautiful old Montreal two nights ago to meet a friend of mine named Michael (who comes from a pretty well-known family here in Canada which I will not name). Michael was in Montreal for a business meeting and was returning to Switzerland and to work the following day.
I had met him on a sailing trip last Easter. Chatting away and sipping Hendrick’s in the cozy ambiance made me realize what an interesting sail it had been! And that I better write about some of it before I forgot some of the details.
It all started when I was lounging around in northern Italy with friends (time spent exploring local vineyards around Barolo). I got an email from Costachi, a successful Greek music executive living in London (he is actually almost as cool as his job entails, even though he delves in Beethoven and Brahms instead of Lady Gaga and Jay-Z). I was being invited to go sailing, and he needed my help to man his yacht.
It was to be a challenging trip, since even though I had been an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy for a while I had never done some serious sailing. The plan was to move the yacht he had just bought up in Scotland (an amazing Danish-built X-Yacht) from Helensburgh near Glasgow all the way to Gosport, next to Portsmouth in the South of England.
The crew, comprised of Costachi, Michael, King (another one in the recording industry) and yours truly, prepared for the journey. We stocked up on supplies and on nautical equipment. We also got some Scotch. Even though we knew we wouldn’t be doing much drinking while sailing, drinking from a nice bottle of the stuff with the hills of Argyll in the background was a must.
Departing from Helensburgh was an awesome experience, and being a history buff, I bathed in the moment. Descending through the Firth of the Clyde, I thought of all the ships (including Canadian ones) and U-boats that had sailed in this very spot during the Battle of the Atlantic in World War Two. How many wrecks and unfortunate seamen were buried in the depths of the water I was staring into at this very moment?
Cooking food was a challenge while underway, since we had to go down below in the relatively small cabin. The yacht had been designed for speed and therefore had quite a low freeboard. Many affirm that seasickness is reduced when one can see the horizon, so cooking can, and does, make more than one quite noxious. We had great cook on board since Costachi is an avid food enthusiast, and provided us with several excellent dishes and wine. That being said, I should have contributed and prepared poutine, Quebec’s “national” dish. It would have provided everyone with an added subject of conversation on the topic of the “world’s best foods” on long night watches.
I have to admit though that the best culinary experiences were lived ashore. Since we docked at various marinas along the way, Holyhead, in the Isle of Anglesey, Falmouth, Plymouth and Brixham, among others, we were well treated by Costachi and visited many fancy restaurants along the way . Moreover, I got to sample local dishes, such as seafood and Cornish pies!
I have somewhat limited experience sailing and it was a pleasure to learn the basics of the art. We planned to use sail all the way through. Unfortunately, winds were somewhat against us, especially further north and then east after land’s End… The engine was therefore used quite often, and I was glad I was not footing the diesel bill…
No words can explain the true beauty of sailing down the Irish Sea, especially after dusk. On a dark starry night, various rotating lights from nearby lighthouses reflect far beyond, bringing you comfort and the feeling that someone is watching over you. At the same time they are there to remind you that you are treading in a totally different world. The lights of Belfast and Dublin are visible to your right and make you daydream about Guiness and girls with somewhat strange accents. It is slightly cold, but heat from the coffee mug (with three sugars to stay awake) seeps through your gloves and provides you with warmth. You check your chart and light characteristics to try to figure out if you can identify your position and if on course. You double check with the GPS. Michael had downloaded Admiralty charts on his IPad and although quite unofficial, it provided us with an extra layer of comfort. I can just imagine my navigating officer in the navy having a heart attack if he heard I had used an IPad for any sort of navigation!
Another moment, this one very British, was sailing in front of Plymouth and listening to God Save the Queen during the royal wedding on BBC radio.
The best moments, however, are the ones that make sailing a true sport. Some were challenging and others downright dangerous. Although I am sure they are quite entertaining, our seamanship skills and pride might take a hit if ever they are known!
When asked, “What news from the sea?” The fish replied “I have a lot to say, but my mouth is full of water.”