Shortly after taking delivery we did an Indian Ocean
coastal "shakedown" cruise,
sailing from Durban to East London, South Africa. As Bob had not yet received his Skipper's ticket he commissioned Bill, a friend of long-standing and an instructor at the local sailing academy, to skipper the yacht. I'd been calling Bob 'Captain' since we'd bought our first yacht so he asked me to refrain from doing this as Bill would be in command. It had become a habit I felt I'd have a problem
breaking, so I called Bill "The Admiral" (and I think he loved it).
We set off from Durban against a howling Southwester and had hardly crossed the bar leaving the harbour when Ern became violently seasick. He just lay on the aft deck with his head hanging over the side retching pitifully. We fed him Valoid, Sturgeron and Stemetol; we attached sea-bands to his wrists we stuck Scopoderm pads behind his ears but nothing seemed to help. Finally I asked Bill to show him how to use a suppository and at last the vomiting stopped.
"fat lady" ploughed on through the wild sea, heaving and lurching, skidding and shuddering. Bill was helming and Bob was taking a rest on the pilot bunk prior to his next watch. Ern was still lying on deck, having tied himself to a stanchion. I dithered about trying to make myself useful by picking up and restoring everything that was flying around to it's rightful place as I even offer to make us a hot drink
The journey took it's toll of us all as we became more exhausted and battered. It wasn't difficult to understand why the ancient mariners had christened this section of the East coast of South Africa the "Wild Coast". Belatedly we discovered that the yacht had no interior grab-handles and Bob observed that he would have to fashion a waist strap in the galley to prevent me from being continuously flung backwards onto the saloon table.
After all those years out there I appreciate what an exceptional skipper Bill is, having brushed shoulders with professional skippers throughout the world. Many are down at heel, grubby and degenerate, but Bill is always neat, spruce and professional. He's tends to pop out of the woodwork the second he's needed and disappear into thin air when he's not.
Nothing shakes his sunny disposition, he has a phenomenal sense of humour, he misses nothing yet is deaf and blind to the occasion. He meticulously and constantly checks and rechecks everything. If one of the crew appears to be out of sorts and you enquire, "What's his problem?" Bill replies "Just taking strain". He enjoys a drink but never becomes inebriated when underway. We have known him for many years and found him to be a self-taught master of many trades and professions. (And therein lies a tale that has the potential to become a best seller!)
Ultimately we reached the Buffalo River at East London and sailed up to the yacht base. We had just berthed and were making fast when Bill roared out, "Oscar, you bloody shit! Where the hell have you been?". And the reply, "Bill, you bastard!". I couldn't believe my ears! I swung around open-mouthed and looked at Bob. "No problem" he said "just two old codgers happy to see each other." And so they were, nattering away like two old women at a wash line.
We loved the atmosphere on the wharf. Dozens of restaurants and bars, quaint little shops selling nautical gear, a chandler and many landlubbers, mulling about enjoying the buzz". It was Saturday, the Marina had recently opened and the entire world was there!
Shortly our daughter arrived with her husband and children. They were living in Port Alfred at the time and had motored up to spend the day with us. Bill and Ern swaggered off along the wharf and we lost track of them 'til next morning. We showed the family around the yacht - the grandchildren excitedly peeping into everything and asking dozens of questions. Finally, after they'd left, we went ashore where we thoroughly enjoyed a cold beer and a meal (that someone else had prepared!!) There was no sign of the crew when we returned later that evening so we flopped into our bunk, dead beat.
The following morning when
I saw the saloon I cracked! The happy, inebriated wanderers had returned during the night, cooked up a midnight feast and trashed the galley and saloon. I hauled them out of their cabins, read the riot act and ordered them to clean up, then flounced back to my cabin where I remained until there was no further sound of movement on board. When I emerged, everything was spotless!
Bob, who was reading in the cockpit, quietly told me that I shouldn't have torn into Bill the way I did as it was
inf'radig for him to have to clean up. I told him I didn't give a rap for nautical protocol. We hadn't bought a yacht to create an opportunity for me to char for a bunch of hogs and if the Admiral was too important to clean up his mess, he should have made some other
arrangement. And of course that's exactly what he'd done - He'd given Ern instructions, and taken himself ashore!
We only remained in East London for two nights, as the purpose of the trip was to familiarise ourselves with the yacht and establish what
else we required to make ourselves absolutely comfortable. Bob also needed to log up the necessary nautical miles to write his next exam.
On our journey South we'd traveled about ten miles offshore, using the Southbound current to our best advantage. On our return we stayed close in on the 20
meter contour line, allowing us to keep out of the current and hopefully pick up some counter-current. We were in constant sight of land so the return journey was more interesting and as the sea had settled, far more comfortable.
The following morning I awoke just before sun-up. Bob was on watch so I made coffee and took it above. He was using the auto pilot and we sat sipping together in the cockpit. We were facing seaward and it seemed as though the yacht was the only object on the planet - sailing in the centre of a huge, quiet, blue bubble. The Eastern sky turned blood red - then suddenly the sun popped out of the sea like a champagne cork and skidded heavenwards. It was so beautiful I
burst into tears. Bill's head appeared at the top of the companionway - one look at me and disappeared again.
Years later I remembered this incident when I read an horrific press account of a chap who'd murdered his entire crew with a handgun! It isn't easy being confined in a small space with limited privacy, in the knowledge that you can't escape the company of your shipmates 'til next landfall. One so often hears about problems on board and Bill, in his years of experience at sea, probably assumed Bob and I were in the midst of a "domestic" and needed space.
We were approaching Msikaba - an area very special to us - so we took SEEROSE close in. Bob had spent a great deal of his formative years on his Grandparent's trading post at Mseleni, 18 miles inland and they'd built one of the first holiday-cottages at Msikaba. We were living in the town of Kokstad when we met and fell in love and where we were in business for many years, so we'd spent numerous happy weekends and holidays on the "Wild" coast.
With binoculars we were able to see the road at the top of the hill where the excited children caught first sight of the beach on arrival ... our favourite fishing spots ... the beach cottages ... and the sand dune where the children tobogganed on cardboard boxes.
On a recent occasion when we'd been there, a black man passed by the cottage. Bob greeted him in the Xhosa language and he replied. Bob then rose to shake hands which was done in African style. A lengthy conversation ensued and due to my limited command of the language I lost interest and returned to my book.
Suddenly a happy shout rang out and I looked up to see them in an embrace, then slapping each other on the back, laughing and jabbering in Xhosa. The black man was shouting
"uLuabbi! uLuabbi"! (Robert! Robert!) and Bob called out to me, "Sally, bring us a couple of beers!". And when I did they both sank to their haunches and drank together in the sun - the way the men of Africa do.
It transpired that he and Bob were childhood friends who'd played together as toddlers, then children. They'd built little mud cars to push in the sand with all the appropriate "vrumm-vrumm" noises and fought as great warriors with sticks and shields. They'd also (once only) "hunted" Grandmother's chickens with "spears" and got their backsides warmed. Then life had steered them onto different paths.