There is an increasing tendency for people who go about in boats to sail from marina to marina and watch TV when they get there. This is a bit like driving from supermarket car park to supermarket car park – all right if you like that kind of thing, but a specialised taste. My Minimum Boat column in Practical Boat Owner magazine was an attempt to turn the clock back to a simpler, more spacious (if more out-of-control) age. I was assisted in my research by Daisy, my ancient but elegant Cornish Shrimper, and various friends, relations and unwitting stooges. Nowadays Daisy has gone, and I have put Minimum principles even further into practice on a Corribee I bought on Ebay and refitted along lines simultaneously luxurious and Spartan. Here is a sample.
I was climbing onto the boat one evening this summer when I heard a hail from down the quay. ‘Oi!’ it said.
I looked round, and saw an odd-looking cove wagging a gloved forefinger in my direction. He was wearing a crash helmet, lifejacket with harness, double Gibb hook lifeline, whistle, strobe, built-in Epirb, GPS, waterwings, survival suit, knee protectors, shin pads, gloves obviously, and Suregrip rigger’s boots. ‘Yeah?’ I said. ‘Let me guess. You are off to the South Pole via both Capes and Tasmania, and you plan to do a little oil exploration and skydiving along the way, and you would like to know whether to turn left or right on leaving the harbour?’
‘No. I am assisting with the Rescue Boat for the Under Tens Oppie Race,’ he said. ‘I am the Club Health and Safety Officer and I cannot let you go to sea like that.’
Well, Daisy was nice and tidy, rig and sails perfect, plenty of fuel, all navigational instruments in place, radar reflector up, pumps everwhere, lights working, flares in date. I was wearing a lifejacket/harness combo, some clothes, and a thin coat of Factor 20, the sun being out and the breeze Force 3. But us Minimum Boaters are always ready to learn. I glanced at my watch. ‘You have half an hour before the race – ’
‘Better safe than sorry,’ he said.
‘- and I would like you to have a look at Daisy. I feel there may be issues. Perhaps you could help me see a way forward with regard to this one.’
The muddy eyes under the helmet brim brightened. This was the kind of bluff, sailorly talk he understood. ‘Clearly I welcome an opportunity to input re the safety of your on-water leisure environment,’ he said.
‘Fine,’ I said, ignoring a faint ringing in my ears. ‘Hop on.’
He lumbered down the quay steps, slowly, because he kept clipping on and off the handrail as he came. As he stepped into the cockpit he tripped over his lifeline and fell. His crash hat bounced him off a fender and his nose hit the starboard side of the companionway. ‘Mayday!’ he cried.
I brought him an oily rag from the first aid kit and told him to lie with his head back.
‘There are issues re your cockpit environment,’ he said. ‘I may sue.’
‘I am of course insured for three million squids third party,’ I said. ‘And if my no claims bonus is in danger I will bring countersuit down to you dripping blood on my teak deck. These issues, now. Please explain.’
‘Hard decks not bearing sign saying DANGER – HARD,’ he said. ‘Deep cockpit also inadequately signed. Possible flammability issues with teak decks. Boom unsigned, could give nasty bump to head or stick up nostril. Proximity to sea, cold, wet, moving in several directions at once. Lack of signs saying DANGER – TIPPY. No chainlink fence round edge of boat. Have you conducted a safety audit?’
‘I am correctly dressed,’ I said. ‘My boat is seaworthy, even when some overdressed cretin starts crashing around in my cockpit – ‘
‘Unhelpful,’ he said.
‘Stop it and drink this,’ I said, handing him a glass of rum. ‘It is nose medicine.’
Health and Safety drained the glass. ‘It is alcohol,’ he said. ‘Modern studies show – ’
‘A pox on modern studies,’ I said, pouring him a bit more. ‘Stone age canoeist or Vendee Globe competitor, we ignore common sense at our peril. Common sense dictates that we take responsibility for our own lives and we do not trust them to foc’sle lawyers like you, and that rum can in certain circumstances oil a gritty soul.’
‘I am shorry,’ said Health and Safety, bursting into tears. ‘Very, very shorry. I had a chaotic childhood and ever since have shown a tendency to overcompensate by bossing people about.’
‘You have my sympathy,’ I said. ‘I suggest you go somewhere else and use your talents where they will be admired, like maybe North Korea, and leave those poor children in their Oppies to have fun.’
“North Korea, eh?’ he said, musingly. ‘How about Iran?’
‘Iran would be perfect,’ I said. “Now it is time for you to go.’
As his boots hit the quay steps and his Gibb hook clipped the railings, his back seemed to straighten. He turned, an expression of weaselly vindictiveness polluting the features below the helmet brim. ‘But before I get my plane,’ he said, ‘it is my duty to inform you that as Club Health and Safety Officer I have to condemn your craft for lack of adequate signage neglect of Best Practice absence of Quality Assurance and failure to achieve Safety Management Norms.’
‘I fear I am not a member, so naff off,’ I said. ‘I am however Safety Officer of my Minimum Boat. We have no injury accidents but expect a 100% mortality rate.’ I turned my back on the brute, tightened belt, adjusted braces, and headed for the uncluttered blue horizon.
A collection of these pieces, illustrated by the great Mike Peyton, has been published by Adlard Coles, and has sold remarkably few copies, perhaps because Minimum Boaters would rather buy another kilo of epoxy than a book, which as all the world knows is a way of carrying hot air about the place.
My current column in Practical Boat Owner is called Flotsam and Jetsam, and is a selection of oddities culled from ancient lore, the classics, scurrilous gossip and the bizarre operations of organizations like the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, who assume that everyone in a boat is driving something that weighs at least 10,000 tons. What you might call a leitmotif is a month-by-month account of the restoration of the Corribee, see above. And indeed here: