Three is enough for the moment, I think… so I thought I’d have a crack at something a bit different. Accordingly, still too timid to embark on the novel I so want to write, I delved back into my own past and came up with these nautical adventures. I was a little apprehensive about foisting something so different upon my readers, concerned that most of them would not be remotely interested in the high seas and sailing upon them. But Nat, my editor, reassured me by saying that ‘Three Ways to Capsize a Boat’ has about as much to do with proper sailing as ‘Three Men in a Boat’ has to do with serious river navigation.
I felt flattered to have my book compared with Jerome K Jerome’s little classic – something that has gone deep into the soul of all of us – but then Nat is my editor and thus unnaturally enthusiastic about what I write. There are undeniable similarities, though… both books are nautical, light hearted and mercifully short; both consider the premise of utter incompetence.
The events in question happened in the early eighties and me in my early thirties. Things have gone wrong with the sheep farming and there I am casting around for something to fill my life with. Out of the blue I am offered a job skippering a yacht in the Greek Islands… and me having never so much as set foot upon the sea, let alone a boat. Eagerly I accept the job and set about making myself halfway competent. In a succession of dangerous and unpleasant interludes I come to the conclusion that I detest sailing and want nothing further to do with the sea. But I am committed, and being something of a sticker, carry on through.
The movement of the book – if that’s not too pompous a term – is me learning to love the sea. In its inimitable way everything goes belly up in Greece, but little by little our irrepressible protagonist (me) sorts things out and spends a glorious late summer and autumn enjoying the wine dark sea and the Isles of Greece, something that has left me with an unquenchable yearning.
Next I decide to take things more seriously and embark with my nautical mentor, Tom Cunliffe (q.v. at www.tomcunliffe.com ) on a proper sailing journey across the North Atlantic in the wake of Leif Eriksson. (You’ll remember Leif… he discovered the Americas five hundred years before Columbus, but very sensibly, left them alone) This was the right stuff, and the journey, from the heavenly fjords of Norway across to gale blasted Iceland, ice bound Greenland and eventually Newfoundland, gives me an excuse to wax eloquent about the sea and its bergs and dolphins and whales, and its moods elegiac, sinister and terrifying. For this, like much else in life, was a voyage in search of beauty.
You will find here subjects never before touched on in the genre… and perhaps better left that way. And to round up, there is a romantic and implausible – but true, as are all the events in the book – episode with the wife to be, in the icy and turgid waters off the West Country.