Saturday 3 February 2007

Plums and cheese

Saturday’s not the easiest day on which to make headway. There are too many people about, down from Barcelona to enjoy their holiday homes. There’s one particular bloke who likes to buzz about my bench, picking up tools, dipping a finger in a tin of screws and having a stir, all the while making garrulous conversation, which he compels me to listen to by nudging my arm every time I look back to the work in hand. “Going fishing then are you? That other boat you got too small? (He means the windsurfer) I went on one of those once, only it was much bigger, big enough for 4.” He’s knowledgeable about vegetable gardens but boats are out of his realm. I suppose if this were a village of indomitable Gauls he’d be Unhygenix the fishmonger, not that he has anything to do with fish, it’s just that I'd quite like to hit him with one.

Finished shaping the centreboard and gave a 4th coat of epoxy to the case cheeks to rectify the dreadful finish. I think I’ve been trying to put off the moment when I scarf the side panels, so I finally buckled down and started on them feeling that I’d quite like the benevolent ghost of some old shipwright standing behind me to guide my trembling hand.

Rather like Joshua Slocum recounts in Sailing Alone Aound the World.

While crossing the Atlantic Slocum polished off a load of plums and cheese and by nightfall he was doubled up in pain. With the wind rising he managed to reef the sails and then he threw himself down on the cabin floor and became delirious. The storm intensified and when Slocum came-to, his boat, Spray, was plunging in the heavy seas. But looking out of the companionway he was surprised to see a tall dark man standing at the helm dressed in old-fashioned clothes. At first Joshua thought it was a pirate come to cut his throat but the stranger introduced himself as one of Columbus’s crew, the pilot of the Pinta, and said that he’d guide the boat through the storm. Slocum and the pilot had a surreal conversation in which Joshua received a telling off, “You did wrong, Captain, to mix cheese with plums.” Slocum returned to his bed but was kept awake by the pilot’s singing. He had the strength to shout out, “I detest your jingle.” And went back to sleep. When he woke it was broad daylight, the wind was still strong and Spray was heading as he had left her and “going like a racehorse.” The boat had done 90 miles throughout the night. Slocum was impressed; “Columbus himself could not have held her more exactly on her course.” He felt extremely grateful to the old pilot but, “I marvelled some that he had not taken in the jib.”

Later the pilot came to Joshua in a dream saying, “I should like to be with you often on the voyage, for the love of adventure alone.” And when Slocum recovered he threw all the plums overboard.

If I get myself into trouble with these joints I’ll try OD-ing on plums and cheese, see if I can’t evoke the ghost of the Pinta’s shipwright.

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