For Fred Saunders
100 years old this year
So 'The Eye' is 100 years old this year, in some ways she looks it too... classy, elegant, old fashioned; out of a picture book from another time. Little regard for slick efficiencies or modern lines, outfitted with materials that feel good to the fingers and feet and so easy on the eye. But she also looks so bright and shiny, as if she is still loved and cared for by a hundred willing hands.
The Eye of the Wind has been a special and spectacular part of my life for nearly 20 years I guess, and I know I am not alone. If I had forgotten how important she has been to so many, the festivities in Weymouth and on board a month or so ago were a good reminder and of course the best way to catch up with shipmates again and skip around the deck, tend the lines, chat and laugh about wonderful and exciting times and for me .. something more this time.
We began our short voyage (my first in the Northern Hemisphere) out of Weymouth after a surprise dinner ashore, many of us knew each other from previous sails, but those that hadn't met did so with the ease that comes from a shared love and parallel adventures in a different time and space. Huge ferries, all new, aluminium and powerful crowded the narrow entrance to the little harbour as we left, we were not even sure if the one we passed as we tidied up the mooring lines was the same one that we had seen earlier, they looked functional but faceless, so different to our unique and wind driven lady.
Most of my favourite memories of square rig sailing include a clear blue sky, bright hot sun, deep sparkling seas and the tangible lure of the next coral atoll an overnight sail away, the South Pacific is just like that. But this time we felt lucky that the rain was sporadic and mostly light, and the temperature allowed us (especially those accustomed to the local weather) to dress sensibly! The first thing I noticed was the few changes that had been made on deck and below, and for me anyway, I found most of them to be pleasant (I especially appreciated the revamped hen house with its en suite). Once we had set the fore squares, jibs and main, the ship took on that familiar, comfortable motion that I describe as 'sitting down' in the water as she headed south towards the Isle of Wight at a pleasant 7 knots. At least for some of us, this happy situation looked like it would easily persist for the whole day; until an enormous sea rescue helicopter came charging up and amidst a great deal of noise and fuss, dropped a James Bond like gentleman on the poop. Wow.. what a blast (in many ways). Hard to top? Hmm, just as the chopper was clapping off (to perhaps lift a desperate soul from a burning deck nearby), a tall ship appeared fine on our port bow; yep, we were in the company of another sailing ship, the American "Bounty" passed by within hailing distance and helped me (at least) to get fully into period. But seriously, it was an amazing first day and was of itself more than enough reason to fly half way around world.
By now, all on board had renewed old friendships, (for me: John, Lesley & Kate) and begun to make new, (for me: Joe, Peter, Chris, Ricardo, Clair and Robin). The crew were Julius the Capt'n, Nora the mate, deck crew Laura and Alida, Tallships 1 and 2, and in the galley Jack. They all seemed a little bemused by this bunch of old salts who knew stuff about the ship and her history that they had hardly heard about. Tiger formed us into watches (as usual) and we set about getting the old lady into a routine, familiar and comfortable in the main. Perhaps it was about now that some of us began to realise (even more) that we, also, had aged a little. My watch had Ricardo and Chris and yes in keeping with (at least my) tradition, we managed to be the worst behaved and laughed more and louder than anyone else..!! The crew, especially the ladies accepted us in good grace and tolerated our advice and enthusiastic assistance in the best humour.
After a very pleasant sail past the white pinnacles, with all on deck enjoying the sunny day, we tied up at Cowes overnight and checked out onshore, in the local shops, pubs and waterfront. I took a stroll in the early morning with Tiger past the brass cannon to the colourful beach huts and chatted about history and royalty and places to live. That morning, after such a lovely sail, with the quiet water lapping, no crowds and the mostly pretty old houses, it was hard to see why anyone would want to leave. But we did, and we headed off down the channel, (quite a surprise to me, so narrow..!!!) at times with enough wind and well trimmed sails to push our through-water speed above 10 knots and this with a relatively even keel .. pure sailing pleasure!!
Our next port of call was in Belgium, having easily passed by France on the starboard side. As we approached, seeing the flat land and closely packed tenement blocks crowding the coast line, we were again (nearly) blown away by yet another helicopter, slipstreaming us and creating havoc with the deck cushions. I had begun to feel like a drug dealer doing the Caribbean run..!! The little port gave our very cool skipper a chance to show his parking skills and give the (new to me) bow thruster a run, nicely done too. We then assumed that familiar and wonderful feeling that celebrities must get when they appear in public, the ship is so beautiful that simply being there was enough to draw a crowd of curious, perhaps jealous, passersby full of questions and admiration (oh, and a marketing opportunity for the ship). This has always happened, from Sydney to Pot Vila, from Ambrym to Kwaiwata, the ship has always been a thing of beauty, to be admired and respected. I am invariably struck by the way everyone, kids and adults, pacific island villagers and high rolling white boat owners, sailors and lubbers, rich and poor can see something in the ship that takes their imagination to adventure and faraway places. Well, it did for me too and still does.
I guess I have spent a good few years on board in total, on and off many times in lots of exotic places, loved it all, but this trip had a special pleasure for me, not only catching up with old friends and sharing the 100 year celebrations near to the 'birth place'; this time I had my 11 year old son Nemo with me. So it is from the heart that I say thanks, thanks to all the crews, all the passengers, all the visitors before and now for sharing the adventure.
Simple thanks are hardly enough for Tiger and the Eye, and they were never sought, but I want to give them anyway on behalf of myself, my son and perhaps many others whose lives have also been enriched so greatly. I hope the Eye will continue to sail for another generation or more, and all who sail in her do so with the spirit of those who sailed before close by.
Happy birthday old girl..