They served us tea and teeth-cracking biscuits on the deck of the Lowestoft trawler, Excelsior, at Burnham-on-Crouch last Sunday. The tough old smack, built in 1921, had long ago stopped trying to catch sole on the Dogger Bank. Instead she now tries to catch souls who have fallen foul of the law or been abandoned by family and society or all three and turn them round with a lot of pully-hauly in the North Sea.
They showed us a video tape of a young woman who had done a bit of sailorising in the uncomfortable old gaffer. She said: ‘I’ve got a job now and a place to live. It’s not much but it’s a start.’ Then about 100 of us were served rather tough goulash and treacle tart and custard at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club at £25 a head. Chains dipped as the great and the good broke bread and supped wine: I was told the mayors of five different boroughs were there as well as a bishop or two, all the guests of the spirited High Sheriff of Essex, Sarah Courage, who wore a three-cornered hat.
Alongside the paper napkins for each guest were applications for a banker’s order. I noticed many diners filling out these forms in front of their fellow guests with grand flourishes. I noticed equally as many furtively fold them into jacket pockets rather than hand them in. Distrust of banks and the economic downturn? I think so. One diner told me he had pulled every penny of his considerable fortune from the UK and deposited it in a Norwegian bank.
Which is a shame. So if you’d like to help the Cirdan Sailing Trust you can: www.cirdansailing.com