SOME YEARS AGO I used to suffer from a recurring nightmare. I would be dreaming of John Wayne, or the day I won the Pools, you know all those mundane things an “ordinary housewife” (with bra) dreams about, when suddenly that dreaded thing will manifest itself and a galvanising cry of “Lee-Oh!” will sound shrill in my ear. This leaves my husband wondering the next morning if I have had a seizure in the night, and still confused as to how he came to be on the floor with a sheet wrapped round him and a pot on his head.
You see, it’s all on account of this Mirror (6224) we made, well he made, well I helped, and the children and I practically fit it out every season so I reckon it gives me some rights. Visualise, if you can on this Leigh-on-Sea shore, one of those balmy afternoons, or to be more accurate, rather cloudy, a force 5-6 breeze, sea choppy to say the least, the family equipped with bathing attire, shorts, sunglasses or to be more precise all having three pullovers, assorted rain-gear, life jackets, emergency bag in case of shipwreck, containing a rather out of date chart of the Thames Estuary, and an old compass which always defies nature and never points in the same direction, food for the children, beer for Dad, biscuits for the dog, and first aid kit for Mum with that well-known antidote for seasick sufferers — Whisky! You don’t know, try it! It works wonders. After rigging 'Brusal' without too much mishap, and say a good half an hour later, owing to the fact that the jib was put on upside down, and the main went up without the Burgee on the end of it, we take up our positions. and begin to sail without too much effort towards Canvey Point. I am trying hard to forget the fact that it is already my fault that I forgot the knife which has the key on it to open the padlock on the mooring, it was my fault we forgot the rowlocks, why hadn’t I remembered to bring a towel to dry the dog, as she always gets wet before we even step aboard, and whose job was it to bring the oars. Never mind, we are drifting, I mean sailing, towards Canvey. There are boats moored all over the place off this shore and you have to maneouvre your way through them. Then, of course, there are those that like racing, and it’s a very funny thing but we always manage to sail off about five minutes before they do. When you are confronted by Motor Boats tearing out of the Creek from the Old Town. leaving very disturbed and frothy white wake behind them, words are no good in this situation, gestures are much better, anyway, you finally come out into comparative safety fairly bowling along. The children are already eating, and with shoes off, are busy trailing bits of string in the water, Dad has already started to take the tops off the beer cans, the dog is eating her biscuits and asking the children for more, and yours truly is doing her best to prevent everyone from falling overboard, and a mood of tranquility prevails, the Yachting Glossy Magazine family afloat look, all too soon, alas, to be shattered by that thing I try hard not to hear “Stand-by" — “Lee-oh!”
The effect can only he described as utter and complete panic, and pandemonium breaks out. The children stand bolt upright at the command and charge into each other, the dog pricks up her ears, and a terrified look comes into her eyes as if "Lee-oh” in her language means “Abandon ship” and leaps overboard. I grab the jib sheet with both hands, shut my eyes and pray, nothing seems to be happening —
“Get your foot off, Bruce,” I whisper frantically.
“You havent untied it, Mum.”
“Come on up there,” from the agitated Helmsman. Still we are not doing what we ought to—
“What on earth’s happening, I can’t get her round, what’s the matter with the . . .thing?”
“Perhaps you’ve still got the brake on, Dad,” suggests my son, for which I shoot him a withering glance.
There is perhaps one thing you may have noticed about the tiller, any tiller in fact — it is always that bit too long. Push it away from you, fine, pull in the sail, slide gracefully off the thwart and as you get it amidships you find it caught in your life- jacket, fall forward a bit more, push the boom out with your right hand and get the main sheet out of a tangle with your left, and finally succeed after a few more frantic tugs on the tiller to start to move again, anyway it is always like that when I do it.
“O.K. up there.”
“Fine, dear, fine.’
We all settle back into our holes again, the children have lost no time in sorting themselves out and are onto the ship’s biscuits, but I am conscious that one of our number is missing. Our dog has always loved the water and is swimming quite happily alongside us looking rather like an otter with her black back and whiskers breaking the surf ace of the water, We drag her back eventually and she shakes herself all over us as a reward and settles back into her allotted spot. Comparative peace descends for a while, it is all very pleasant after all, nought can be heard but the cry of the gull, the lapping of the waves, the crunching of biscuits, the swilling of beer, the contented snoring of the dog, and me, I’m still hanging onto the jib as usual expecting disaster to strike any minute, good job I got those fish fingers, won’t take long to do the chips - “Stand by!”
So if you should see us pottering, as Sally so delicately puts it, don’t be deceived by the apparent calm, just watch us when the command goes out ‘Lee-oh!”
from Joyce Raven M6224 'Brusal', Leigh-on-Sea
Editor's note - This article is from Reflections No. 11 Autumn 1973, page 10 and has been captured by OCR, so typos & errors are possible.