I was monitoring Sarah Montague’s Radio 4 World at One when a note or two of Abba’s hit Waterloo sent me reliving more than a month of intense drama - followed by its opposite - far back in the yesteryears.
|Preparations... Friends help get Homeward Bound 2 ready for her attempt on a distance record.|
But it flung me immediately to the other side of the world, to the very remote but wonderful island of St Helena.
It's where some years ago I was guest of honour – and how – of the very hospitable and wonderful councillor, the late John Musk.
He had moved to the island from Surrey many years earlier. I arrived there after a month adrift on a dismasted and almost storm-wrecked supposedly ocean-going dinghy.
The little craft, Homeward Bound 2, pitchpoled a month earlier in the South Atlantic, fairly close to 30 degrees South, but quite far from the nearest piece of land, St Helena Island, the British dependency at 15°56'S x 05°43'W.
|Ready, set ...... Homeward Bound 2 is towed out to a start line beside the South Atlantic for her attempt on a singlehanded voyage to Brighton in the English Channel.|
That mocking gale
It was quite a drama, as I tell in my adventure book, Sailing to Purgatory.
Suddenly at lunchtime today I could hear again the shriek of that mocking gale as it seemed to signal Gotcha, expecting this singlehanded Cape Horner to drown.
Stubborn me declined and, thankfully, the dinghy – presumably still carrying a lot of trapped air - surfaced.
I clung to her stern for some hours, and eventually found a way to clamber up onto the overturned hull.
Before the storm abated at around dawn, an out-of-kilter wave walloped into the little boat, threw me into the ocean again, and obligingly turned her right side up.
I swam to her and somehow clambered on board.
Easy to remember
What to do now? No point in lingering in that shipless part of the ocean. The nearest land, still far off, was St Helena which blessedly has an easy location to remember: 16 degrees South and almost on the Greenwich meridian.
Nuts and raisins donated by encouraging firms in the Cape was all the food that remained from the overturning. Thankfully, my sextant had managed to hold on, too.
I erected an oar which somehow had survived and attached some clothing to it and off the gallant vessel sailed. Not at the usual speed, however, though occasionally did we hit half a knot.
A month later that brave dinghy found St Helena. The island authorities were hospitality itself and Councillor John Musk took me home to, well, feast and treat me royally.
And this is where Abba joins the anecdote.
The wonderful fellow gave me the opportunity of not just hearing his favourite group, but also to learn the lyrics of all of the Abba hits which – as memory has it – played in the house from dawn till around midnight for each of the many days I was treated so regally on the island.