Confession: Things that go bump in the night

In this month’s Confession, one owner couldn’t thank his French neighbours enough after a trip overboard

It was a lovely warm evening in early September. My husband Stephen, daughter and I had decided to spend the weekend on our new boat. We were moored in a quiet marina on the south coast, having brought the boat round from Southampton a few days earlier.

We wandered up to the local restaurant for dinner, which was excellent, and were just strolling back to the boat when I was struck down by a migraine.

This happens about twice a year and unfortunately leaves me with impaired speech and vision. I do not suffer any pain a long as I take my medication at once but it does make me very sleepy and the only thing to do is to go to bed.

My husband and daughter sat up for a while chatting but when they retired Stephen headed to the aft cabin so he wouldn’t disturb me.

In the early hours I heard a voice shouting “Help! Help!” I knew even in my drowsy state that there was no one staying on or near our pontoon so thought it was a stupid prank and turned over to drift off again.

Recommended videos for you

Then I heard my daughter’s voice, “Mum, Mum. What was that?”

I tried to wake up sufficiently to tell her it was silly prank but she yelled again. “Mum, it’s Dad.” Then I heard her feet rushing down the boat.

I clambered out of the bed and made my way with difficulty to the stern of the boat. I saw a head in the water and my daughter kneeling on the pontoon holding on to someone.

“Mum get the lifebelt.” My head was fuzzy. Where on earth was the lifebelt on this boat?

Accompanied by her yells of “Help, help” I went back inside and picked up the only useful thing I could – a life jacket. When I reached the stern of the boat I saw two people had joined her.

“Ah Maman,” she said in much more cheerful tones, “Ce sont des Francais. Ils ne parlent pas anglais mais je leur ai dit qu’il n’y aurait pas de problème parce’ce que tu parles couremment francais.”

(Ah Mum, they’re French. They don’t speak any English but I told them there would be no problem as you speak fluent French.)

I clambered off the boat and the French couple stood up. We all shook hands and said “Enchanté”. Then we knelt down to help Stephen.

The Frenchman said “Un, deux, trios” and we hauled Stephen out of the water on to the pontoon where he lay soaking and gasping for breath.

My daughter and I are linguists but my husband is a scientist. He knows about 10 good French sentences but when he has used all of them – that’s it.

Rising to the occasion he produced his very best, “Je vous remercie mille fois.” (Thank you a thousand times.)

“De rien,” said the French. “Mais il faut qu’on vous quitte parce’que nous partons très tot demain matin. (Not at all. But we must leave you now as we are setting off early tomorrow morning.)
We shook hands once more and they went on their way.

Very soberly and subdued we got back on board, made sure that Stephen was dry and warmly wrapped up and had some hot, strong sweet tea. Then we began to pack up to return home at first light – none of us wanted to stay.

A few hours later we could see the lights of the French couple’s boat across the marina and I thought that we should go and thank them again before they left. As the boat was new to us we had nothing to give them so we gave them some money to buy some wine back in France.

“Je fais parti de l’équipage de sauvetage,” said the young man, accepting the money. “Quand nous arriverons en France je vais le mettre dans la boite.”(I’m part of a lifeboat crew. When we arrive in France I’ll put it in the tin.) We shook hands again, and waved them off.

There are several lessons we have learned from this. Make sure that you all know where the safety equipment is both onboard your boat and on your mooring pontoon.

Secondly, make sure that someone knows and preferably sees anyone off the boat if it’s after dark. My husband had gone to the toilet but no-one knew this. On his way back he simply lost his footing while trying to board and fell backwards.

And last but not least – brush up on your French! You never know when you might need it.

The author of every confession we print wins the original Stephen Shaw cartoon artwork (above) and an Icom IC-M23 Buoyant VHF Marine Transceiver handheld VHF radio worth £165.

For your chance to win, spill the beans on your funniest boating moments in 650 words. Email your story to:


Latest videos