Monday, 4 April 2011


My first sail of the new season was, as tradition demands, on April 1st, the day I launched 'Poppy'. She was glad to escape from the gravel patch in front of my house. This first sail was an uneventful spin barring the inevitable (for me) wrinkles which needed to be unwrinkled.

My second sail was last night. I planned to take one of my sons in law for a quiet float up river to the Turf Hotel, there to drink a beer, as in my beautiful verses, and so to drift happy home. I 'phoned the Turf to make sure they were open and was told, from the mouth of the landlord himself, that they would be serving beer until ten, no food though!

We set off with a lively breeze blowing on our nose. With some difficulty we inched up towards Turf as best we could but our thirst made us impatient with sail so we took to the oars and rowed turn and turn about to the Turf against the wind.

It was an unsatisfactory landing. The moment we landed, the breeze which would have taken us trimly home died the death. Moreover the landing stage had disappeared and the path was littered with engineering plant over which I nearly broke my ancient neck. The promontory was deserted. The pub had closed. This was at half past eight!

We rowed home as sober as Mormons and by now the tide had started to ebb so we had an easy enough time of it. We made 'Poppy' fast to her mooring and paddled to Lympstone's Green.

As we went ashore lights flashed and a voice from the dark informed us that the coastguard had been called out to search for us. Why? you might well ask. Because an imaginative neighbour had thought we MIGHT have got into trouble. Why should he have thought that? Because it WAS DARK. I shall not describe the ensuing nonsense of having to dismiss zealous inshore lifeboatmen and coastguards.

You might think that, what with contrary winds, equivocating landlords, over imaginative neighbours and lack of beer, this expedition is to be classed as a failure but that would be to take too narrow a view . It was a wonderful spring tide. Our outward voyage was under one of those glorious Exe sunsets, not of the obvious blood dripping kind but of the subtler golden kind. For a while, for some reason unknown, the sky above us was full of swirling arabesques of shrieking gulls. Then the curlew flew South high overhead and a lone heron flapped from Topsham to Powderham. Our return was under the most brilliant starlight. We sailed beneath Charles's Wain, surely the loveliest name of the many for that constellation, and Orion stood to his post nobly in the West. Apart from the rumble of traffic over the motorway bridge at Topsham the Estuary was silent. Such evenings are rare and to be treasured.

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