It was a few years ago, I’d hitched a ride in an old Class I warhorse...
It was a few years ago, I’d hitched a ride in an old Class I warhorse and we were charging a blank wall of rock at something like 85mph waiting for the Gouliot Passage to open up. Over the intercom the navigator intoned: “Steady… steady… Now!” Hard over to port went the wheel, and then it was the throttleman’s turn: “Careful, you’ll turn the bloody thing over!” My fellow journalists, who’d watched the race from the less frantic hospitality of press boats and helicopters, looked on amused as I walked unsteadily back to the press tent in St Peter Port. I quaffed a couple of glasses of the sponsors’ champagne, attempted to describe what I’d just experienced over the past two hours and collapsed into a doze at the table.
You don’t have to be wearing overalls and a crash helmet to have those adrenalin moments, of course. You can have them at eight knots or 80, and it’s the eight-knot ones that stick in my memory, because everything goes wrong so slowly that you’ve got time to take stock of your situation and savour its unpleasantness. Caernarvon Bar one February, as crew on a Grand Banks: the sands had shifted, the buoys were all out of position, and our sketch chart based on the harbourmaster’s best guess wasn’t quite doing the business. For our last desperate lunge towards where we hoped the deep water would be there were 10ft breakers on the beam and – for one heart-stopping moment – 0.7m on the echo-sounder. Oddly enough, my reaction after that was also to fall asleep. I dreamt of huge, breaking waves and woke up ravenous.
Anyway. Throw another chandlery catalogue on the fire, top up your drink, and whatever you do, don’t take this issue to sea.