Libby Purves considers the satisfaction of problem solving at sea and wonders how you might replicate these small joys ashore
Never underestimate that for some boat-owners (though not necessarily their crews or partners), it is the maintaining and problem-solving that form half the satisfaction. Especially the latter: a puzzle is always satisfying.
I have discovered on several boats over the years that the concept of ‘easy-care’ or trouble-free is not universally popular. My own husband is, to our advantage and safety, master of all the systems on Wild Song, beyond and below the rig. He has a fearful intimacy with every corner, wire, plank, pipe and seacock. Perhaps it’s a long-distance single-hander thing, but I bow to it in awe.
I used to be better, but I got de-skilled by motherhood and later by his long, lone voyages and my flirtation with tallships, where hauling, steering watches and peeling potatoes was as technical as it got for me.
So on an ordinary cruise I am just an obedient crew. I can stand a night watch alone and wash up, but am hard-pressed to identify every tool-filled locker or
guess which relay is fouling up the instruments.
He is also, as a cook, the master of provisioning, and learned the ways of electrics years ago when rewiring the gents in the old Mermaid Theatre. I just tidy up,
do the rubbish and Capitainerie run, and after politely inquiring as to whether any spanners need passing or torches holding, sneak off for a swim.
This used to leave me bravely dealing with a sense of guilt, because he was still fixing something or tracing a fault. I have no guilt now. One sunny day this year in Morgat I got the point. He emerged with a look of exalted triumph after solving a suspected leaking water tank, upbraiding a rebellious electric pump under
the galley floor and gratuitously replacing a whole set of saloon LED fittings.
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He visibly enjoyed his beer and crepe more than at any time in the whole cruise. I realised that such mornings are as vital to his enjoyment of this weird pastime as cold-water swims are to me. He would actually be lost if nothing needed loving care.
My husband and I, and many of our friends, are starting to feel our age. Each year we hear of a boat resignedly sold. There’s a niche here for the holiday trade, surely: for ex-yachties who will never properly enjoy the holiday hotel lunch and saunter round the town without that warm sense of achievement. We need the hospitality industry to step up and offer a sort of methadone: a come-down from the addiction.
Thus at the Hotel Des Vieux Plaisanciers, there will be an option of booking a Chambre Probleme to reproduce the yachting satisfaction. On arrival the guest would be shown to a toolkit in the corridor, and on entering the room, discover one or two small things in need of fixing: a curtain-rail, a loose carpet perhaps.
Thus he will have earned his first aperitif and be willing to settle down. For serious cases there will be a Chambre Grands-Problemes, with a head-torch issued on arrival, and the light switch positioned in an awkward corner under the bed. The taps and shower won’t work until a floorboard under the dresser is lifted (kneeler provided) and a screwdriver recovered at arm’s length from a puddle of water below, so that a cowling can be removed to reveal two stopcocks. Each must be adjusted precisely one and a half turns, in opposite directions, according to instructions, possibly in Swedish. Having achieved this and replaced the floorboard, the retired yachtsman can arrive at dinner relaxed.
Outside on the deck, overlooking the water, there will be comfy chairs around tables, perhaps a jigsaw of the Sound of Harris chart with two pieces missing, and a library of pilot books specially selected to contradict one another.
On request, an engine (housed in an awkwardly shaped shed) will have a small intriguing fault to find. There will be a plentiful supply of tarred twine for fancy ropework, and some badly fraying three-strand cordage with a bosun’s fid and spike. A free cocktail will be awarded on presenting a competent sailmaker’s whipping at the bar.
And what, you ask, will partners be doing while all this therapy is under way? Why, swimming of course.
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