We left Porto on the wings of a dying breeze, four knots soon drooped down below three. Little Coconut felt heavy, she was sleep walking, her arms out of time with her body, sails flapping violently in the rolling sea. With the flick of a switch our struggling sail boat was turned into a chugging train, and with gib rolled up and main clamped in we ran off into the night. I never feel totally at ease under engine, too many parts chattering away down there, too many loose teeth. I suppose my expertise in that realm only goes so far, like a St John’s ambulance first aider, one or two plasters and a good rub, that is my lot, changing the filters, checking the coolant, hoping she keeps the beat. Our plan was to sail for Cascais, a good spot for the boat, a town close to Lisbon with some waves over the hill. By sun set on the second day it was time to rethink, fog rose up thick and fast, great billows jumping out from the water. Coconut was stuck in pea soup, senses cut off by the curtain. We were left wide eyed, staring away into the mist, into that cruel face of uncertainty. The visibility soon dropped down to one or two boat lengths, it was time for the fog horn. Out of the packet she came, twenty quid or so, brought at the start of the season for games like this. I’m not sure where South Pier got that fog horn from, was it last years Christmas cracker or the year before, was it the Chinese trick shop or two for one out the back of Del boy’s yellow three wheeler? The horn went off like a frog’s arse, croaking out mill pond whispers, useless like tits on a bull. We bust out laughing, ‘ what was that!!!!’ I said, ‘who stepped on the goose?’ I shook the can again, ‘maybe she just needs to warm up a bit, get some air in the lungs,’ i tried it again, again it softly croaked, we laughed some more, ‘ priceless the fog horn, comedy the fall.’ I throw it back below and we turned the wheel, heading for the closest harbour available, a fishing town called Penchie. It is a weird feeling, watching the GPS with one eye, gazing out into the fog with the other, left flank lost in a computer game, right flank caught up in a ghost story. Ten feet away there it was, creeping out from the shadows like a drunken beggar, back bent, head down, unmistakably the outline of a harbour wall. We were in, in at last. Miranda didn’t feel tense in the slightest, she didn’t bat an eyelid. You can sit and watch some budget hollywood movie with her and she’ll jump at every gun shot scream at every twist, put her in a setting where she is in legitimate danger, not a peep, she sat at the wheel like a roadside kangaroo. We found the small boat pontoon and rafted up next to a young French couple, it was late when we eventually turned in, happy to be safely rafted up not motoring through the fog all night. As we fell into a deep sleep those old oak doors started to creak close, our window down to Lisbon was shut, where was no way we would be leaving with the morning sun, a big low was flying in from the Atlantic, we had the legs to beat it, but not the will, safely in port our plans changed.
We weren’t at the boat when the low hit, we were in Sintra. My parents shouted Miranda two nights in a hotel for her birthday, she was on cloud nine. No more broken sleeps on Coconut’s damp foam bed, she didn’t have to witness me standing in asshole’s alley, pissing into a bailer, waiting for the kettle to boil. She had space, running water, toilets, wardrobes, mirrors on the bathroom wall, she had it all. In truth I felt reluctant to leave the boat, the wind was going to hit and we were rafted up, which meant Coconut was left in the hands of our friends, Thomas and Pauline, the French couple.
To make matters worse we got in a right tangle on the way down, netted by a couple of drips in uniform, emotionless statues , void of compassion, void of personality. I point blank refused to pay their bogus fine at first. Upon entering the highway we forgot to press a button, upon exiting we became stuck at the gates, they wanted 55 notes for an hour on the road, it was robbery, with three lanes running in behind us there was no getting out of it. The fine didn’t matter so much, it was there’re tone, I lost all control and went at the ring leader with both barrels blazing, walked up all crazy eyed, ready to go. What’s a brief spell inside anyway, not too bad a trade for bashing the nazi out of a midget, it seemed like the only way to settle it, my hands were at this point shaking with rage, the only sobering influence in the saga was Miranda’s wails for retreat, ’No Hugh, please,,, just get back in.’’ It was her birthday weekend, we were meant to be having a treat. I walked back up the highway to cool off, Miranda talked it through, settled it all down, we paid up and made it to the hotel. Why did I react like that? Where did that drunk man’s temper come from, well this my explanation. Out at sea there is natural order, humans are like blades of grass, they sit below the heavens, beneath the raging squalls and storms, beneath the rain and beneath the sun, we are weak out there and consequently act meek, we sit like specks of dust beneath the stars, what freedom. The problem starts for me when I get back to land, get forced to swallow reels of red tape, to read books by the sentence without taking in the words, black swollen letters fall off their pages like frost bitten toes. The real problem here is simple, I am the problem, when I get taken down that road all I see is a nazi, I don’t see the poor boy who got cheated out of his bag of marbles, my compassion falls away, john hue the man in blue turns into a cold blooded killer, he sits on a cliff edge without realising it, faced with a blading nutter drunk on fumes, my thinking stops and out comes the caveman. Well that is my explanation for acting like a twat, here goes my attempt in a tongue in cheek solution, taking into account bashing me on the head is at present, in this part of the world, outlawed. No my solution is far simpler, rock into a class of ten year old kids, ask the question ‘ Who wants to be a policeman?’ Up go the arms, ‘right you lot come with me,’ take the power hungry sector out of the education system altogether, lead them across the paddock to the toilet block, give them a bog brush and a decent set of marigolds, apprenticeship begun. Go back into the class, ‘ who wants to clean toilets,’ If any kid is crazy enough to raise his or her hand clap them on the back, send them straight to the mayor ’s office, apprenticeship begun, everyone else stays put. Anyway lets press on, ranting is boring for the sober, after a cracking weekend in the hills, our highlight a dinner out on Miranda’s parents, we headed back to the boat. Miranda did some art and i surfed, we had a good time with the other sailors and enjoyed the busy fishing town. After a week the wind changed and we moved on, sailing down to Lisbon in perfect sunshine, goose winging the last section, main out one way, gib the other. Coconut ran that leg on skates, gliding through the drink, it was great sailing a great way to end the week.