Three Sheets to the Wind


Thursday afternoons can be so dull, can’t they?  The mornings too really,  despite the thrill of racing to get the bins out in time.  After that, the rest of the day has a rather limp ’not-quite-Friday’ feel to it. Last Thursday was a little different – there was various work to tackle, but the sun was out and Table Mountain was gleaming smugly outside my window so I pushed back my chair, picked up my bag, and headed off for a champagne cruise.  Aah, life is tough in Cape Town.

There were only five of us on board Esperance.  Welcomed aboard by Paul, we were asked if we had done any sailing before.  “Nein” said my Austrian companions with a happy shake of their heads.  Paul grimaced and asked, “Have you seen The Perfect Storm?”  “Nein,” they responded, still smiling.  A slight breeze ruffled the rigging while we sat on the mooring, but Paul informed us that once out of the harbour we would be experiencing a 30 knot wind, gusting to as much as 35 knots.  My smile stiffened slightly while Paul checked the life ring and the crew slipped into their oilskins.  My four fellow sailors took photos of each other and waved without suspicion at their tour guide who had opted to stay on shore.

Easing past the lesser seen parts of the Waterfront – the wharfs and berths where the real work takes place – the scenery was theatrical.  In the foreground there was the activity of unloading the trawlers onto the hard from which rose up a line of brightly painted warehouses.  In the middle distance the city and, towering above everything else, the extraordinary outline of Table Mountain provided a dramatic backdrop, an ancient rock topped by an incongruous fluff of white cloud.

The scarf I had tied round my head in an attempt to look like a jaunty sailing type came off before we even left the harbour.  Sails up, Esperance shot out of the harbour at a 45 degree incline and headed straight towards the massive container vessels that arrive in Cape Town by the dozen.  Sail takes precedence over motor, and sure enough smaller motor vessels crammed with less adventurous tourists skipped out of our way in order, so it seemed, that we could challenge the container ships unhindered.

The wind certainly had a bite to it, but it was blowing from the south and the north-facing bay had no swell on it.  By the time Roger the skipper had finished pointing out the penguins swimming alongside us we were right out into the bay, the Waterfront way behind us just a blob now at the base of the mountain. The west coast of Africa stretched away on one side of us, on the other open ocean all the way to Rio.

Paul’s prophecy of high seas was, thankfully, unfulfilled.  The wind had dropped to a steady 20 knots allowing us to cut rapidly through the water without much more than the odd splash of brine dampening our wind-whipped cheeks.

There is an undeniable romance about being powered at speed under broad expanses of white canvas which goes hand in hand with the quaffing of a little fizz. Forty five degrees did not prove too much of a tilt to pour champagne nor, in fact, to drink it. But there is a little known rule that anything drunk on a boat is four times as alcoholic as the same drink at home.  The Austrians, quiet and placid at the beginning, were swinging from the rigging after the first glass.

The yacht went about gracefully under the deft hands of the crew and was pointed for home as the rest of us rolled around happily in the cockpit.

Less than an hour later I found myself sitting in rush hour traffic, the most moronic of ways to spend time.  But my skin was still tingling and my ears ringing, and there was a small but rather pleasant spin behind my eyes.  I felt enormously alive as I gazed in wonder at the commuters on all sides of me.  Did they not realise?

It was six o’clock when I got home. Neill looked up as I weaved in through the door.  “Nice day?” he asked.  I felt the thin salt crust on my cheeks crack as an enormous grin spread across my wind-flushed face. “Pretty good,”  I said, “for a Thursday.”



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