What can yachties teach crusty old Master Mariners? What can yachting learn from the wider shipping industry? Captain Horatio Hardy and Yachtmaster Skippy Brewster embark on a journey of discovery, from which both emerge wiser men.
Who is Horatio Hardy?
The younger of two sons, Horatio Hardy was born in 1925. Educated at Gresham’s School in Norfolk at which he boarded from the age of three. His parents were teachers: Father, Headmaster of a minor private boarding school; Mother, teacher of arithmetic and history when not ‘forming the characters of young gentlemen’ as the formidable dormitory mistress. To Dartmouth as a Royal Naval Cadet at the age of 13 in ’38. To sea from late ’41 until VE day in ’45; battleship (HOOD), cruisers (North Atlantic and Arctic convoys); command of 3 minesweepers and 2 light destroyers.
Although intending a naval career, de-mobbed after WW2 and transferred directly into the Mercantile Marine for 35 years; principally with the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company Ltd, the Mississippi and Dominion Steamship Company (Dominion Line), and The Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Stepping ashore in ’90, Horatio was a Senior Investigator at the UK Marine Accident Investigation Board until he finally hung up his sextant in 1993.
In retirement, Horatio fishes for flounders, plaice and dabs from his boat off Hunstanton and reads avidly about technology, especially as it applies to the maritime profession. He supports Boston United on Saturdays, and lunches with like-minded old seadogs every Thursday at the Army & Navy Club in Pall Mall where he laments the demise (one a week) of his former shipmates. His personal motto is ‘God has an impish sense of humour, so watch out’. A pathological romantic, he loved many but never married, although he might have several children.
Chapter One: Captain Horatio Hardy Arrives in Antibes
Less than an hour after landing at Nice, Horatio Hardy sauntered towards the entrance of Le Totty d’Azure, ‘watering hole of choice to the (mega) yachting fraternity’. He noted, not without a hint of nostalgic amusement, the scratchy graffiti of an impish wordsmith whose state of origin was, he speculated, almost certainly Old Albion or perhaps Hibernia. Beneath the beautifully varnished name-board was the English epithet ‘Home from Home’.
Horatio admired the depth of the mirror-like sheen on the gleaming, glossy hardwood; twelve coats minimum, Horatio reckoned – he always recognised the work of a craftsman. It was underneath this sign that some itinerant wit had cursively daubed in magenta marker pen, ‘yeah, except the price of a f&^%$g Guinness!’ And, for good measure, the wag had added, ‘Don’t beam me up yet Scottie, I’m having a shi……’. Horatio smiled; he was a mariner – both Master and Ancient – so he had seen worse; nay, he had done worse, and not much moved the mood of the old sea dog. Onward, he thought…
Such was the circumstance and noisy melee that greeted Captain Hardy as he sought out at least two of his three identical great-nieces, now ‘firmly embedded’ in what – he was told – was known as the ‘Yachting Industry’. ‘Firmly embedded’ was the term his elder brother, the triplets’ grand-father, had used to describe the loose association with the maritime profession into which his ‘boy’s gels’ had ventured since leaving Les Gets (skint) in late spring the year before.
Elder brother (94), Kismet (silent ‘t’), had become mildly concerned about his three identical grand-daughters, so he asked (begged is more accurate) their younger Great Uncle and Godfather, Horatio (a mere 89), to reconnoitre all things related to their current circumstances; no holds barred.
Horatio was on a mission; just like the old days in WW2 when he was a young, dashing naval officer attached to MI9.
Forging through the mass of hair, tattoos and Marlboro induced fog, the cacophonous din was pierced with the familiar high pitched tone unique to all Auld Bedaleans: ‘Uncle Horry, Uncle Horry; over harr, yeth, over haaaRRR!’ Being deaf as a post to starboard as a result of naval bombardment (theirs and ours), he had some difficulty direction finding. He instinctively went into his usual HF/DF mode; face the apparent bearing, five degrees to port, ten to starboard, narrow it down. (A brief aside: to the indifferent onlooker, it looked like the old geezer was rockin’ perfectly in rhythmic coincidence with the Arctic Monkeys’ track over which the punters shouted to be heard).
'Ah yes, there she is’: he could clearly see Number 2, ‘Claude’ – diminutive of Claudia – waving and beaming like a woman possessed. As Horatio fought through the scrum she threw herself at her favourite ancient blood-kin, smothering him with genuine and unrestrained affection. Uncle Horry was the girls’ favourite and hero: Godfather, sage counsellor, gallant as a knight and spinner of wise and wonderful dits from every corner of the world-on-sea.
‘How abtholutely marvellouth to thee you old Great Uncle; how are you, how wath the journey, are you feeling tired, oh do tell, but how rude of me, you mutht be parched like the Gobi, let me get you a drink to whet that wonderful whithle of yours……’. If you, dear reader, are exhausted by the lack of full stops in Claude’s excitable diatribe, share a thought for Cap’n Hardy who had lost track of which question to answer even before the mention of ‘parched’. But the naval slang for a sundowner – a ‘whet’ – caught his attention, and brought him back to sensibility.
‘A pink gin would be lovely.’
‘Sorry mate, all our gin is clear see-through, just like my skipper’s bra’, proffered the (antipodean) waiter.
‘Oh, Ferguson,’ gushed Claude, ‘don’t be thuch a cretin! Thith ith my magnificent uncle and we DEMAND a drink and proper thervith, toot thweet!’
‘If you insist, sweet pea, I’ll thervith you later; I get off at….’
‘Do you perhaps have any Angostura bitters?’ interjected Horatio, more than fearful about where the amorous cretin’s attempts at courtship might wander, and steadfast that his attempts to procure a large measure of ‘pinkers’, every discerning naval officers’ favourite tipple, would be rewarded.
‘No, sorry mate, we only have McEwan’s bitter. Good pint though; ‘course we chill it, unlike the pommy bastar…’
Horatio was looking into the middle distance: ‘I haven’t been called ‘Mate’ since I was the Navigation Officer in The Queen Mary in ’48’, he mused. Waving Ferguson off, having decided to defer gratefully to the Kiwi sommelier’s knowledge of liquor, he turned to his great niece and was about to ask after her general welfare when he was rudely (quite literally) interrupted.
‘Hey, there you are Clam, you rancid old spunker; Jeez, where the flying f&*k have you been?’ barked a tall, gangly thirty-something as he fell down into the seat opposite the Hardys. Horatio’s port eyebrow moved a millimetre north, as it did always when faced with gauche bad manners laced with improbable self-confidence.
‘I’m not Clam, thilly. I’m Claude; Clam ith my little thithter. You obviously haven’t heard; Clam hath run off to thea with a Russian thcoundrel and, anyway, who exactly are you, Monthieur le Matelot?’ replied Claude, not without a hint of flirty indignation. She was facing down a dilemma; it was crystal that she ought to devote her attention to her special blood-guest, but was finding it irresistible not to tap dance with fresh meat. Horatio looked on, unmoved; this is how intelligence was gathered. After barely five minutes, he was already making headway with his mission. Ever the grammatical pedant (like many an old sea fogey) he was wondering: Who is this Russian off with whom Clam had buggered? A scoundrel, says Claude? Why so?
Some background is needed here, lest the reader becomes bamboozled. The otherwise sibling free triplets were known within the family as Numbers One, Two and Three. The eldest (by 6 minutes) was ‘Number 1’ (aka Camilla; more usually Cam, as in belt). ‘Number 2’ – our present heroine - was Claudia (aka Claude);and Number 3 was the runt of the trio, adrift by 20 minutes and awkwardly, yet alliteratively, named Chlamydia; hence ‘Clam’.
Ribbed mercilessly at school, the youngest had always been inwardly horrified by her ill-chosen name, but she had developed an inner strength; she smiled stoically through the adversity her forename endlessly wrought upon her through smutty innuendo. What on earth had possessed her parents to nick-name her after a shellfish? Life could be so unfair.
Where, the curious reader might also wonder, are the absent parents? Why are the aged grand-relatives burdened with establishing if all is well with the itinerant trio? Brace yourself, for the answer will shock. Some nine months earlier, the girls’ father Algernon (known as Algae) and his wife Hermione had fallen victim to marauding buccaneers at sea in the Gulf of Socotra, that treacherous triangle of sea off the Horn of Africa; backyard of murderous villains a la mer.
Algae had become a yellow-wellied yachtie after thirty years as an investment banker. His firm had been ‘merged’, a euphemism for ‘bought cheap with humungous commission for both sets of Board members’, by Nastyyankeebank Inc. Five minutes after the deal was agreed he was summarily ‘let go by email’, softened by a monumental cheque equal to the GDP of most states in the fourth quartile of the world’s economies.
He was dined out (of work), paid for with his own ‘company entertainment’ allowance, at Wilton’s in Jermyn Street by his disloyal troops whose veneer thin respect was instantly lost after Algae, by now referred to as ‘the ex-boss’, had cracked what he thought was an hysterical and cleverly topical joke:
‘If magicians are well known for their cunning stunts, what is an alternative name for an ‘investment banker?’ Polite, if slightly suppressed laughter, ensued. He got them to write down their answers on their seating cards, thus indelibly linking utter stupidity with their printed name.
‘The answer, of course, is merchant banker! Now let’s see what you all wrote, and we’ll start with my successor’s wife, Bambi, the one whose lacquered hair looks like a crash helmet...'
And so it was that Algae left high finance, bought a ‘Nick 55’, and set forth to sail around the world because he had been told by a lifestyle guru that it would be fun; an antithesis to the intellectual torpor borne out of office based avarice.
And fun it was as they popped corks in Michelin starred restaurants across the northern Mediterranean; a different one a day. It became almost a game. Just like Groundhog Day. Even the Red Sea transit was quite fun, if a bit hectic with all those huge merchant ships and noisy warships charging all over the place. Life was indeed good, finger lickin’ good, until they sailed north of Bibim Island and cleared the Bab Al Mandeb at the southern end of the Red Sea. It was here, fifty miles into the Gulf of Aden, that they encountered some less well wonga’d mariners.
Two rickety wooden power skiffs, much less shiny than Algae’s pride and joy, had emerged on their side of the sea horizon. ‘Oh look, Algae, those chaps are waving’ was all Herm had said. ‘Don’t Panic’, which Algae had caused to be written upside down on the transom for comic effect, was boarded and taken with some loss of face, but thankfully without loss of fluid. Less than charmingly, Algae and Hermione were rather forcefully invited to join their new hosts in a mud hut somewhere in Godknowswhere.
Since that momentous day, some nine months had passed. That’s why the parents were conspicuously absent; indeed their absence was globally conspicuous since their names and faces were regularly splashed across the media, usually something along the lines of, ‘Nastyyankeebank continues to refuse to bow to the will of the sordid criminal; they will not risk putting others at risk by paying their obscene ransom demands!’ So that’s why Kismet and Horatio felt themselves to be in loco parentis.
That’s why Horatio had been despatched by the Patriarch to investigate that all was well with his beloved great-nieces who, like him, had chosen to be professional mariners but, unlike him, were employed in what was apparently called ‘the Yachting Industry’.
To be continued…
Captain Horatio Hardy is Commander Sean O'Reilly:
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.
First published in May 2014.