The Last Race of the Season
When Karen first talked about ‘working with India’, I assumed that she meant the country. But then, after the name had come up a couple more times, I realised that, while India was a country, the India that Karen was talking about was a woman.
‘An artist,’ Karen said. ‘An illustrator. Fashion mainly. We worked together at O’Rourke’s. I did the words and India did the pictures.’
‘Right,’ I said. ‘And where is she now?’
‘Not sure. The last time that I heard from her, she was on a boat somewhere in Southeast Asia. Thailand, I think. She met this chap. I think his name was Gary. He delivered yachts for a living, and he was taking six months off to cruise around bits of Southeast Asia. He needed a crew. Actually, I think what he was really looking for was something that sounds very much like crew — but with an extra letter,’ Karen said. And she laughed. ‘India is quite experienced in that department.’
‘Oh? A bit of a serial offender?’
‘She’s one of those good-looking strawberry blondes. With freckles. Quite a few chaps go for that look, don’t they?’ Karen had dark hair. But I imagined that she too had done all right for herself in the male company department. For a woman in her late thirties, she was certainly ‘a looker’.
Karen and I met on a boat. It was at Cowes. Arnold Kerwin had talked me into being his navigator and tactician for the Round the Island race. Arnold had made enough money to buy himself a pretty decent yacht, but he had never really learned to sail the thing properly. ‘How hard can it be?’ he asked when he told me he had entered Flying Tonight in the Round the Island race.
At Cowes Week the previous year, Arnold had had his wife, Jenny, on board. But things had not gone well. Words had been exchanged. And Jenny had decided that, henceforth, when it came to racing, Arnold was on his own. While Arnold headed for Cowes, Jenny was going up to London to see if she could wear a few numbers off her credit card. Arnold took Jenny’s absence as an invitation to see what spare totty might be hanging around the clubhouse. At least Karen had taken sailing lessons. She had even crewed for Doc Whiteman aboard Pink Gin.
Karen was only slight. And I didn’t expect her to be especially strong. But she looked light. And at least she seemed to know her way around a boat. ‘How do you feel about the foredeck?’ I said, taking charge.
‘Foredeck? Yeah. I can do that.’
‘You’ll have Greg at the mast,’ I said. ‘In case you need a bit of muscle.’ Greg was six foot six and two axe handles across the shoulders.
Arnold wasn’t that happy when I detailed Karen to the role of for’ard hand. I think he had been expecting to have Karen back in the ‘members’ stand’. Next to him. But I hadn’t signed on to make an arse of myself. And I needed him to concentrate.
No thanks to Arnold, we did OK in the race. We didn’t actually threaten the prize money, but we did OK. ‘See,’ Arnold said, as we crossed the finishing line, ‘as I said at the start: how hard can it be?’
‘Well … we did have a little bit of luck there,’ I said. ‘That wind shift off Ventnor did us a massive favour. We were pretty much out of it until that kicked in.’
‘Oh, well, you can’t help good luck,’ Arnold said. And then, as we came into the dock, Arnold’s luck dried up somewhat. Jenny had had a last minute change of heart. She had caught the ferry across to the island and she was waiting as we came alongside. Arnold’s chances of getting Karen into his berth that night suddenly went from not-very-likely to snowball-in-hell. Jenny came aboard and Arnold introduced Karen to her as ‘Jack’s friend’.
‘Oh?’ Jenny said, looking at me with a half-smile. And, yes, it was news to me too.
‘Is this your regular gig?’ Karen asked me as we sat around sharing a couple of bottles of Veuve Clicquot after the race.
‘No. I’ve pretty much given up serious racing,’ I told her.
‘Don’t you miss it?’
‘Sometimes. But I have Foxy Lady to play with. She’s a retired Sparkman and Stephens one-tonner. She makes sure that I get my dose of salt air.’
‘Oh. You have your own boat. Right. Well, I should give you my phone number,’ Karen said. ‘You know … just in case you find yourself short of crew.’
‘By all means,’ I said.
Karen went and found pen and paper and wrote down her phone number for me. ‘And now I should probably go and see if I can find a bed for the night,’ she said.
‘Oh? Don’t you have one?’
‘Arnold said that I could bunk here on Flying Tonight. But, now that his wife is here … umm … perhaps not.’
‘Well, there’s a spare berth on Foxy,’ I said. ‘She’s anchored just out there. I don’t promise not to snore, but we can give you a stiff rum before you turn in.’
‘Thank you,’ Karen said. ‘That’s very kind.’
It was while we were on Foxy Lady, eating ham and eggs and fried tomatoes, and drinking rum and orange juice, that Karen first mentioned India. Something to do with chilli and sweet basil, as I recall. ‘Excellent with gerçek sex hikayesi fried tomatoes.’ It sounded more Thai than Indian, but there you go.
The next time that I saw Karen was in Southampton. I was coming out of the building in which I had my office, and I almost walked right into her. She said that she was in town for a meeting with a publisher.
‘And was it a successful meeting?’ I asked.
‘We’ll see,’ she said. And then she asked if I’d had a chance to get out on Foxy Lady lately.
‘Not since Cowes. I’ve been a bit busy. When you’re a freelancer, you work when the work is there. And you play when it isn’t. But I’m thinking that I might go out this weekend.’
‘Need any crew” she said.
You had to admire her tenacity. ‘I was going to go solo. But if you’re offering …’
‘Saturday,’ I confirmed. ‘Well … I thought that I’d probably go across to the island on Saturday and then come back on Sunday.’
‘Yeah. We could do that,’ she said. ‘I’ll bring food. Just tell me where and when.’
‘The boat’s down at Hayling Island,’ I told her.
‘Perfect,’ Karen said. ‘I’m house-sitting for a friend just along in Brighton.’
I gave her the address of the marina and we agreed to meet up at nine on Saturday morning.
By the time that I got down to the boat on Saturday morning, Karen was already there, waiting. ‘I didn’t know if I was allowed to step aboard or not,’ she said. ‘Some skippers …’
I laughed. ‘I think we can make an exception for you,’ I said. ‘Oh, and for next time, the key is in the bottom of that ditty bag on the side of the cockpit.’
We stowed our gear, and then we cast off and motored out of the marina. It had been cloudy earlier, but even before we made it out to open water the sun was starting to break through and there was a gentle breeze starting to kick in from the west. We hoisted the main and, as soon as we were clear of the fairway, I asked Karen to take the helm and I went below to haul out the number one genoa.
Foxy Lady was designed at a time when relatively high-aspect-ratio mains and large over-lapping headsails were all the rage. I had thought about having the forestay replaced with a roller luff spar. But, somehow, that seemed like cheating. Maybe when I had a few more grey hairs.
I was quite impressed with Karen’s helming ability. ‘How does she feel?’ I asked.
‘She feels great,’ Karen said. ‘Nicely balanced.’
‘She was a quality boat in her time,’ I said. ‘Well … still is. But there’s no escaping that she’s of her era. A lot has changed in the past thirty or so years.’
Karen and I took turn and turn-about on the helm and, by three in the afternoon, we had crossed The Solent and we were looking for somewhere to park. We found a spot to anchor, and then we had a bit of late lunch. And then, almost before the last crumbs had found their way overboard, I said: ‘And now for the most important part of a weekend cruise: a pre-cocktail nap.’ Karen laughed.
‘I’m going to crawl into the starboard quarter berth,’ I said. ‘The rest of the ship is yours, Number One.’ Five minutes later (if that), I was dead to the world.
The first thing I saw when I next woke up was Karen, now wearing a two-piece swimsuit (and looking great), doing something in the small galley space. I also noticed that the sun was not far above the horizon. ‘Good morning,’ I said.
Karen laughed. ‘Boy, when you nap you certainly nap, don’t you?’
‘I find a boat at anchor very conducive to napping,’ I told her. ‘And what have you been up to?’
‘I enjoyed a bit of sun. And now I’m just doing a bit of prep for supper. A variation on chicken roulade. One of India’s recipes.’
‘Oh? Bhuna? Tandoori?’
‘No. Not India the country. India Pemberton-Jones.’
I was none the wiser.
‘India,’ Karen said. ‘India with whom I used to work.’
I dragged myself out of my quarter berth and went to the head to pee. (Had I been on my own, I probably would simply have peed off the stern, but I wasn’t sure how Karen would feel about that.) ‘India with whom you used to work?’ I said when I returned.
‘Yes. India has all these little tricks for cooking on boats. Feeding hungry chaps when you only have a tiny countertop and a single gas burner. She let me copy some of her recipes.’
I nodded and glanced at my watch. ‘I think it’s time that we opened the bar,’ I said. ‘What do you fancy? A Martini?’
‘Ooh. I haven’t had a Martini for ages,’ Karen said.
‘We can fix that,’ I said. ‘Two Martinis coming up.’
While I mixed and poured two Martinis — served in plastic tumblers but, hey, it’s the drink itself that counts, not the vessel in which it’s served — Karen spread something white and slightly crumbly on thin slices of dense rye bread. ‘Looks interesting,’ I said.
‘Feta with olive oil, garlic, dried basil, and black pepper. See what you think.’
It was delicious. And I told her so. And then I passed her porno erotik hikayeler one of the Martinis. ‘Here’s to a life on the ocean waves,’ I said.
Karen took a sip and then blinked several times. ‘Wa-hey!’ she said.
‘A drink for sipping, I think,’ she said with a broad smile. ‘You don’t believe in overdoing the Vermouth or ice, do you?’
‘It’s more a case of enjoying the taste of the gin,’ I said. The feta and the gin went together remarkably well.
‘When would you like to eat?’ Karen asked.
‘When it’s ready,’ I told her.
‘It’ll take about an hour,’ she said. ‘The potatoes. They’re pre-cooked. But the sautéing needs to be very slow. I’ll start them in half an hour or so. OK?’
‘As I say: when it’s ready,’ I told her.
We took our Martinis out into the cockpit. ‘So … your friend India,’ I said, ‘is that her thing, cooking on boats?’
‘No, no. She’s an artist,’ Karen said. And that’s when she told me about India and her working together at O’Rourke’s, and India meeting a guy whose name was possibly Gary, and then sailing around the coast of Southeast Asia, and, possibly, taking care of Gary’s creature comforts.
‘I should probably go and put some clothes on,’ Karen said as the sun touched the horizon.
‘Oh, well, if you must,’ I said before I realised that I had said it.
I gave her the privacy of the saloon to get changed and then, when she reappeared dressed in jeans and sweatshirt, I went and got the other half of the Martini mix. Karen smiled. ‘I’ll go and get the sautés started,’ she said.
The meal was excellent. Karen very slowly fried pre-cooked cubes of potato until they were golden brown, crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. While the potatoes were doing their thing, she tossed up a little salad of rocket and tomato and more feta. And then she cut thick slices of the lightly-roasted chicken roulade which had been stuffed with apricots and pistachios and polenta. When the potatoes were done, the slices of roulade went into the pan for a gentle reheat. And then, with the aid of a stock cube, Karen even whipped up a little shallot and butter sauce.
‘We probably should have some white wine with chicken,’ I said. ‘But I’m afraid we’ll have to make do with some Sangiovese. It’s quite a light Sangiovese.’
‘I think that would be perfect,’ Karen said.
When you are putting together a meal on a boat the size of Foxy Lady you are resigned to some pretty serious compromises before you even start. But Karen clearly hadn’t got that particular memo. ‘You’re pretty handy in the galley as well as on the foredeck,’ I said as I tasted my first forkful of deliciousness.
‘The chicken is actually one of India’s recipes,’ she said. ‘But I’m pleased that you like it.’
Supper was a leisurely affair and, even before we were halfway through the bottle of wine, I had sort of decided that this would not be the last cruise that Karen I would take together.
‘So … are you still writing?’ I asked her.
‘Copywriting? Bits and pieces. But mainly I’ve been working on a biography of my great aunt. She was an aviator. During the Second World War she delivered Hurricanes to the frontline squadrons. And then she flew Mosquitos on missions to supply the French Resistance.’
‘You come from an adventurous family,’ I said.
‘Adventurous? Mmm … perhaps. Or maybe it’s just that we’re easily bored,’ Karen said.
‘Is that why you took up sailing?’
‘Possibly,’ she said. ‘Although it was India who talked me into taking lessons and going out of sight of land.’
On the second weekend of October, our local sailing club always wraps up the keelboat racing season with a passage race to Poole Harbour, about 50 miles along the coast. It’s intended to be a sort of social occasion. But that didn’t mean that the competitive spirits were left at home.
Given that it was often a slog all the way there, I decided to enter Foxy Lady in the cruising division — which simply meant ‘no spinnakers’. A spinnaker’s not a lot of use going uphill. I also decided to invite Karen to join me.
‘Weekend after next?’ Karen said when I phoned her.
‘Yeah. The race is on Saturday. Then there’s usually a bit of a raft party in the early evening. And then, all going well, a gentle reach all the way back to Hayling Island on Sunday.’
Karen hesitated. ‘Umm … I’d love to,’ she said. ‘But India is coming to spend a few days with me.’
‘Oh. She’s back?’
‘Yeah. At least she’s on her way.’
‘Well, bring her too. You said that she likes sailing.’
For a moment or two, Karen said nothing. And then she said: ‘Yes. Yes. Why not? I think you’ll like her. She’s good fun.’
‘And after a few days on dry land she will probably be dying to get back out on a boat. Reacquaint herself with her sea legs.’
Karen laughed. ‘We’ll look after the food,’ she said.
And so, when we motored out to the start line, ten days later, there were three porno hikayeleri of us onboard.
India was probably a couple of years older than Karen. Forty perhaps? And, as Karen had already informed me, she was a strawberry blonde. And, yes, she was certainly attractive — in that girl next door sort of way.
‘Right. Let’s do this,’ I said.
Some days, things just work out for you, don’t they? We crossed the line on port with the breeze pretty much ‘on the nose’. It was more or less what I had expected. But then no sooner were we underway than the breeze moved slightly to the north, and we sailed the western leg of The Solent on starboard with sheets fractionally eased.
Just past Hurst Castle, the breeze dropped away and it looked for a moment there as if we were going to be in for a drifter. But then, after about fifteen minutes, the breeze returned. This time it was almost coming in from the south. ‘OK, ladies,’ I said. ‘Hold all bets. We have a soldier’s breeze.’ And from there, almost all the way to Sandbanks, we were on a broad reach. Yes, a spinnaker might have given us another half knot, but the big number one genoa was pretty much what the doctor ordered.
By the time that we crossed the finishing line, most of the first division boats were already tucked away on the northside of Brownsea Island. Moon Rock was anchored in the prime position with Jenny Jones rafted up alongside. And, as we motored in, Danny Tyler called out for us to go and join them.
‘Well, that turned out to be a doddle,’ Danny said, as we put out fenders and moored alongside. ‘I wasn’t expecting to have this much drinking time.’ And then, after he had had a chance to cast an eye over Karen and India, he said to the assembled drinkers: ‘Sorry chaps, but it looks like Jack has already taken the prize for the best-looking crew.’
I laughed and introduced the ladies. ‘Karen … India. And this fellow, ladies, is Danny Tyler, the club’s Vice Commodore. Because every good yacht club needs someone to take charge of the vice.’
We broke out some chilled cans of Stella and passed them around. I could see that my customary afternoon nap was going to have to wait for another day.
After an hour or so of sipping cold lager and chatting, I decided that, while there was still some light, we had better go and find an anchorage for the night. By then, there were seven yachts all rafted up and hanging off one anchor. ‘Fair notice, boys and girls,’ I called out. ‘We’re about to leave this party. And I think Moon Rock is the only boat with a pick on the bottom. You might want to consider your options. Just saying.’ There was a bit of a scramble, and we motored off leaving the remaining boats to sort themselves out.
Lunch had been a large wedge of quiche and a cup of coffee and so I was more than happy when, as we motored off to a suitable anchorage, Karen ducked below and put together a plateful of her wonderful feta mix on rye.
India and I tidied up and flaked the sails, and then I took the wine orders. ‘We have both red and white this evening,’ I said. ‘What do you think?’
‘Supper’s mackerel. So, white perhaps?’ Karen said.
‘White it is.’ And I poured three plastic beakers of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
As I have already said, the galley space on Foxy Lady is small to say the least, and yet, from where I was sitting, in the cockpit, it suddenly looked like one of those kitchens that you can see into from a smart restaurant. And then, after not very long, Karen said: ‘Right. That’s the prep. Give us half an hour’s notice and we can be eating.’
‘Maybe a glass of wine and the sunset first?’ I suggested.
‘Perfect,’ India said. And Karen smiled and nodded.
‘This is a nice ship,’ India said as we gathered in the cockpit. ‘Ron Holland?’
‘Sparkman and Stephens. But I can understand why you might think Ron Holland. Or even Bruce Farr. That period from the late-seventies to the mid-nineties produced some very pretty boats.’
For supper we had mackerel which the girls had partly cured and then lightly char-grilled with a small blowtorch. The mackerel was served on sweet and sour beetroot, with grilled wedges of cos lettuce and a creamy potato salad dotted with capers. It was delicious.
‘Have you two thought about opening a restaurant?’ I asked.
‘Funnily enough, we did consider a catering business,’ India said. ‘Dinner parties, small functions, that sort of thing. But then we decided that if you have to do it, it probably ceases to be fun.’
I suppose she had a point.
And we had pudding: a moist carrot cake with a sweetened cream cheese and walnut topping. It too was delicious. And I opened a second bottle of sauvignon blanc.
Unlike most modern ocean racing yachts, Foxy Lady is a little pinched fore and aft. But she’s roomy enough amidships. And sitting around the saloon table that night, we could have been sitting in an exclusive restaurant.
‘This fun,’ Karen said. ‘Do we have to go home tomorrow?’
I just laughed. But, yes, it was fun. ‘So, how are we going to organise the sleeping arrangements?’ I said as I topped up the wine beakers.
The girls looked at each other. ‘We thought maybe clear the sails out of the forepeak,’ India said.