A tearful farewll to the newly repainted and beautified Ayesha and a welcome to her new sister of the seas

By the time you read this, fingers and toes crossed, we may have switched boats. It looks like a tearful farewell to the newly repainted and beautified Ayesha, and welcome to her new (albeit used) sister of the seas. I have mixed feelings, really: how will I get around in gales without a mizzen mast to cling to? It’s been a fantasy cabaret of overdressed pole-dancing in that cockpit, these past nine years. But on the whole, it’s a positive move towards the next grand project that the skipper seems to have up his fleecy sleeve.

One innovation, for us, is that although she isn’t much bigger, this boat has got a teeny, weeny cabin under a cockpit bench. You probably couldn’t keep a veal calf in it legally, and standing up is out of the question for most, but nonetheless there it is: a cabin with an actual door that closes.
And that’s new. We’ve had bunks up the nose before. Designers always refer to the foc’sle as a ‘forecabin’, but we all know that’s generally nonsense. A foc’sle is a triangular space with bunks, which you end up sharing with spare boathooks, sailbags,  a powerful aroma of muddy anchor chain, a patched cockpit cover, a certain amount of sinister pipework associated with the holding-tank and a few weird, often quite sharp, pieces of equipment bought at boat shows and never completely mastered.

No, a foc’sle is not what you might call private space, not when at any moment a fellow crewmember might crash down through the forehatch to do something that requires getting under your mattress, throwing your clothes into the heads and losing your paperback in the chain locker. But the new boat’s weeny cabin is aft – and separate. Apart from the odd bit of wiring, it seems to have no other function than to house a human being.

It is, therefore, the first taste of territory we’ve ever had on a boat, at least since the children’s spacious quarterbunks with portholes on our pilot cutter, Grace O’Malley. No adult has ever had a personal citadel. There was a period of singlehanding mania, when the whole boat became Paul’s territory. He used to look down at me, sitting quietly on a bunk reading in a striped top, with the puzzled air of someone wondering why he’d left the spinnaker bag in the saloon. But that wore off, and we returned to the normal cruising status where everyone lives everywhere.

There are, of course, little pockets of temporary territory on a boat. This column has mused before on the psychological importance of the chart table as sacred space, but we all know what happens to chart tables when it’s getting towards suppertime, or when the children fancy a bit of crayoning. On some boats the galley is territorially ruled by the cook, but still there is a certain amount of give-and-take and random nocturnal toast-making.

This teeny cabin is quite different: you could shut the door, even slam it. You could decorate it to your own taste, with Meat Loaf album covers or George Clooney posters covered in hearts and kisses. You could hide your favourite books in there, or a stash of apricots in brandy and chocolate raisins. Hell, there is even a sweet little locker, which could be Mummy’s personal cocktail bar. You could (with a squeeze) invite a friend in for a private hooley, ignoring the life of the saloon and cockpit. You could have an iPod dock. Or a telly. Or monogrammed, black satin sheets, a faux leopardskin rug and a lot of pink, glittery, heart-shaped cushions, to escape entirely from the manly ambience of the saloon.

Or you could be ultra-manly, escaping from your wife’s flap doodles and frilly curtains in the galley. You could upholster the bunk in dark, creased old leather and horsehair,  and line the walls with portraits of dead admirals and half-models on panelling – a miniature Royal Thames Yacht Club. Or you could hire a minimalist interior decorator, and contemplate elephant-dung and tinfoil collages while you lie on a white futon on the cabin sole, drinking lemon grass vodka and listening to cutting-edge atonal music on noise-cancelling headphones while your uncultured crewmates sing Spanish Ladies off-key over their tinned lager in the saloon.

You see? Endless scope for self-expression, and no sailbags or boathooks. We have not yet decided who is going to hold sway over this miniature kingdom. W
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