Thursday 4 July 2019

The Floating World

So the boat has returned to its home port and the wife and I have left it there, taking with us the remnants of our cruise to the West Country. This includes four weeks' worth of appalling laundry, some serious windburn and the remains of a bol sauce that I confected ten days ago in Portland Harbour. Just about everything else has been consumed (or thrown overboard), including two and a half litres of whisky, some gin & tonics, beer, cider, champagne and something between half a case and a case of mixed red and rosé, most of which was drunk by me. So now I'm wondering, were we completely sober at any point?

Most of this deluge of booze was drunk in the evenings, at a time when we were either hysterical with relief at having got somewhere without crashing; or were in a savage depression on account of not having got somewhere due to gales, downpours, fog, lethargy. The boat intensifies moods in a way you don't experience anywhere else. So, with the full sanction of what we like to think of as one of the Royal Navy's oldest traditions, we got stuck into the drink, either as mood-enhancer or mood-suppressor. Indeed, after getting into an impromptu race with a yacht owned by the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth - crewed by four junior officers and an older bloke with an accent straight out of In Which We Serve - I thought we'd really earned our beverages, even though we came in second.

Fair enough. We were technically on holiday and had to get through it. And we had some good times, especially once we'd found a couple of packets of crinkle-cut crisps in a corner locker. What worries me now, though, is that I might be translating this behaviour into acceptable practice back on land. Four weeks is quite long enough to internalise a routine of a couple of stiff whiskies followed by some cheap red wine once it's gone six and I don't know if my liver can handle it in an ongoing fashion. Okay day? A few small gratifications, some kind of micro-acheivement like mowing the lawn or just getting out of bed without putting my back out? Treat it like a successful forty-five-mile crossing of Lyme Bay, open the Famous Grouse. Crap day? Nothing achieved, constant residual despair at lack of funds, political situation, inability to remember the lyrics to Mr Tambourine Man? Same as for Okay day, but remember to frown into whisky tumbler, shun crisps. A pattern establishes itself, with only the gradual empurpling of my nose and a delta of tiny ruptured blood vessels spreading across my face to mark my decline. It doesn't seem like a good idea, not as long as I want to hang on to the remains of what I like to call my dignity. But it looms, unless I can change the trend.

The alternative, of course, is to stay on the boat for ever, drinking like only those afloat can and not bothering about the consequences. After all, once you get past the high-priced yacht marinas and their fancypants residents, the world of water lends itself quite readily to a fully alternative lifestyle. We knew one bloke who lives in a giant windowless barge up a backwater, only the occasional movement of his tarpaulins and the barking of his dogs to give him away. He's an expert in military electronics as it happens. And on the lovely river Dart this year we saw another bloke sailing a home-made boat, painted pea-green and shaped like Marat's bath, just room enough for him to sit in. He was using a single sail apparently cut from a bedsheet to move him along, with a paddle-cum-tiller, like Venetian gondoliers use, to get him out of difficulties. Upriver it's another world, and I don't think anyone there is going to lose sleep over how many litres of whisky it takes to amuse two people in the privacy of their own hull.

This would, in turn, require me to grow a beard and occasionally wear mittens, in order to go properly off-grid. Hideous? Yes, but the beard would at least cover up my drinker's face including, if it got big enough, part of my nose. I need to think this one through.


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