The sea ditty thus far… Missed it? Click here for the first instalment.
Retired octogenarian sea cap’n and adored Godfather to his identical triplet great-nieces (Cam, Claude and Clam), Horatio Hardy has been despatched to the Med to track down his temporarily absent nephew’s ‘gels’, essentially to establish that all is ship-shape in their newly adopted life in ‘the superyacht industry’.
Horatio and his elder brother, Kismet, felt a burden of special responsibility because Algae and Herm, the gels’ Mum and Dad, had been kidnapped by Somali pirates and are believed to be holed up somewhere even Conrad’s Kurtz would fear to tread.
Horatio has met middle-triplet Claude in a ‘yachtie’ bar in Antibes, where he soon establishes that Cam’s whereabouts are as yet unknown, and Clam has legged it with a ‘Russian thcoundrel’. One of Clam’s shipmates has (without invitation) joined Horatio and Claude for a drink in Le Totty d’Azure...
Being more than a little tired after his journey from north Norfolk, Horatio was content to sit back and consider what information Claudes’s antipodean friend might provide about Clam, and perhaps even Cam. Little did Horatio know at this early juncture that there was much more to this seemingly rude young colonial than was immediately apparent, but he was far too wise to judge a man hastily.
Claude, Horatio noticed, had donned the slightly bewildered facial expression of the French Lieutenant’s Woman gazing out to sea, yearning (though bugger-all ever happened in Lyme Regis) for the return of her dashing Capitaine de Corvette.
Her pupils clearly dilated, Horatio was concerned that she was in the early stages of catatonic shock, but then he realised, silly old fool, she was just three sheets to the wind. Horatio waited patiently for a pause in the dialogue. It came soon enough.
‘Forgive me,’ Horatio interjected leaning forward and offering his hand, ‘but I didn’t catch your name. I am Horatio Hardy, Claude’s great uncle, and you are?’
‘Aah, sorry old shipwreck, forgetting me manners. I’m Micky Brewster, the skipper of ‘Caviare’, with an ‘e’. Skippy to me mates. Clam is me Chief Stewy, so I don’t mind tellin’ yer, Great Uncle Bulgaria, I’m thoroughly cheesed off with ‘er coz me boss is due back on board maybe tonight after a few scoops at the Eden Roc and he likes his comforts. Gordon bloody Bennett, I wouldn’t know a Mutton Rothschild from a bloody Vimto!’
Did he mean Mouton Rothschild? Whatever. A lifetime addict of The Times’ cryptic crossword, Horatio was quick to make the connection between the vessel’s name, Caviare, and ‘avarice’. He wondered if the owner was aware that it was deliberately contrived because Gordon Gecko was right when he famously said ‘greed is good’. Maybe the owner simply liked the salty roe.
‘But this is unimportant’, thought Horatio, as he wrestled with the fact that Skippy was his great-niece’s captain; a mariner, like himself. Perhaps the oaf had hidden credentials.
Claude too was visibly moved, but recognised a career opportunity. Old fashioned loyalty was foreign to her, but she fully undertood employment legislation in yachts, the basis being that ‘Bunters and munters need not apply’.
Cam had used these terms in a playful postcard shortly after they had arrived in the Med from Les Gets some months before. Jumping ship was second nature to relative youngsters looking for work (and tips) in superyachts. Darwin’s ‘Survival of the Fittest’ had been reinterpreted; ‘fit’ meant something else entirely in Antibes. And anyone in command represented an opportunity much greater than any recruitment agent could provide. ‘Grab opportunities by the balls’ was Algae’s wise dictum to his beloved daughters, and they always did.
‘Well, I’m free at the moment’, gushed Claude, hopefully.
‘Really? Well, I am in a bit of a spot with his-nibs due back and, let’s face it, you are Clam’s identical sister. Nobody’ll notice! Are you serious?’ replied Skippy, having suddenly adopted a professional tone.
Claude was indeed serious, having been on the market for any job afloat for several weeks. Dossing in a rank crew house was not quite what she had in mind the previous April as she flicked through an old copy of a superyacht magazine an alpine skier had left behind in the bog of his chalet. She had no idea what a Mutton Rothschilds was either, but she was a girl with initiative; google was a wonderful verb.
Mindful that she was about to use one of Great Uncle Horatio’s favourite expressions*, she cast an adoring look towards him, her ample bosom heaving with pride, and she exhaled, ‘most certainly, mon capitaine, and I am prepared to learn!’
Skippy was clearly impressed by her gusto and Claude was employed (by verbal contract) on the spot, and told to report on board within the hour, third vessel stern to along the superyacht quay. Horatio was also invited to escort his great niece to what Skippy insisted on calling ‘the boat’.
Claude, excited beyond measure, leapt out of her seat like a polaris missile and sped off on foot to gather her worldly possessions from the garret in which she was billeted. More than that and much to Horatio’s apparent delight, Skippy winked cheekily at Horatio and let slip that they had Plymouth gin in the crew’s booze cupboard, as well as Angostura bitters. Horatio was warming to Skippy.
What a turn of events after so short a time in Antibes, thought Horatio. Skippy too was clearly deep in thought; he’d lost and found identical chief stewies within 48 hours, his billionaire boss was due back later that night or in the morning with his ‘new woman’, and he had no idea where he would want to go tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or … All part of the fun in 'private' yachting. Thank God he didn’t have to jump through the ‘commercial’ hoops with all the red-tape that his charter oppos had to endure. He turned to Horatio, by now mellowed by his third pint of McEwan’s: ‘I remember Clam told me she had an uncle who was a captain. Would that be you, Horatio?’
Despite his innate modesty, even the briefest of summaries of his life at sea brought wide-eyed admiration from cynics. In a few clipped sentences he described warship command during WWII, and hedonistic life as a young, carefree blade in the old liners, now all but gone except for a few ‘flashy’ monstrosities. Even the monotony of moving chemicals, coal, oil, timber and containers was described with a passion that was typical of all who have sailed under the red and blue ensigns of the British merchant fleet, the biggest fleet of ships the world had ever seen. Horatio was having a ‘Condor moment’, looking up into the celestial sphere when Skippy, ever the wise judge of character and situation, could sense some lightness was required to rescue Horatio from his nostalgia.
‘Wow! Amazing story, Horatio, if I may be so familiar, sir.’ Skippy was not being flippant, for Horatio had gravitas aplenty. ‘I guess you are named after Admiral Lord Nelson, the greatest ever British sailor who gave Froggie Villeneuve a good kicking off Trafalgar and rescued the Brits from invasion and a government of unelected foreigners based in Brussels up the road from Waterloo? Am I right?’
Horatio smiled; he was impressed by the naval knowledge of this young whipper-snapper. The relevance of the EU in Brussels and its connection (or not) with Nelson was a matter for late night discussion over a bottle or two of fine malt. But for the moment Horatio smiled and nodded his confirmation that he was indeed named after the great man who had more than bloodied Napoleon’s nose off Cadiz in 1805.
‘Okey dokey. I hope you're impressed by my insight into British nautical history. Do you know the similarity between Horatio’s naughty ‘sheila’, Lady Emma Hamilton, and the pigeons in Trafalgar Square?’
Skippy’s comic timing was finely honed; he could tell Horatio would work it out soon enough so, after the briefest of pauses went on:
‘Well, they both like to sit on Nelson’s column!’
The joke tickled Horatio almost as much as its narrator; they were both still laughing as Claude re-entered the bar, delighted to see the ancient mariner in high spirits and enjoying Cap’n Brewster’s company. Complete with fake Versace holdall and an enormous teddy bear, ‘Ready for lift off!’, she boomed at her new boss, whilst offering her great uncle a hand up from his seat.
‘You’ve brought me good luck, Uncle Horry. Come on, let’th catch up thome more’. They paid their astronomical bill and headed for the yacht a few hundred meters away, chatting merrily.
Horatio was none the wiser about triplet numbers 1 and 3 by the time they arrived at the gleaming guardrailed stern brow, complete with security gate and CCTV camera. ‘Good God’, he thought, as he passed the ships; nearly sixty years at sea and he’d never seen ships so gleaming and polished, stainless steel capstans and winches, protection for protective pneumatic fenders. He was, in modern parlance, gobsmacked and Skippy, proud as punch, could tell.
Horatio stood back as Skippy punched his PIN into the shiny machine at the brow. ‘Hi skipper’, followed by a buzz and a clunk, and the heavy powered gate slowly opened. ‘Welcome aboard, please follow me’. As he walked up the brow Horatio caught sight of a CCTV camera following his progress. He’d seen a few things, but nothing quite like this.
‘So this is what they call the yachting industry...’
To be continued.
*Claude was mindful of one of Horatio’s favourite after dinner ditties about his early days in the Navy. As he approached the end of his schooling at Dartmouth at the grand age of 16, he was summoned to interview by the College top brass to establish that he was made of the right stuff to be a commissioned officer in the King’s Navy. Diligently mentored for this life-shaping moment, he (naively) thought himself ready for anything.
All went swimmingly in his practical and psychometric tests, and the day drew to a close with a final grilling from the Captain himself, supported by the monocled Headmaster and a cast of Commanders various. ‘Now look here young Hardy’ Captain Gurnard-Bracegirdle barked, ‘I am now going to ask a most important question for which I require, nay demand, absolute candour’. He leant forward, grimacing over his horn-rimmed spectacles, and positively fog-horned: ‘Are you an ‘omosexual?’
Immediately recalling his Divisional Officer’s counsel, quick as a flash Horatio looked Captain G-B in the eye and assertively replied, ‘no sir, but I am prepared to learn!’ Horatio’s future at sea was assured from that moment.
About the author:
Sean spent 28 years in the Royal Navy. He commanded two warships, taught navigation, ship-handling and leadership at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, before commanding the naval contingent in the UK MoD Saudi Arabia Project. He then commanded the UK inter-agency Maritime Counter-Narcotics contingent in the Caribbean. A Masters graduate in International Affairs, he left the Navy in 2006 to lecture International Law of the Sea to Naval undergraduates in Abu Dhabi. Sean now teaches UK MCA accredited courses in the captaincy of commercial yachts up to 3000gt.