A Quiet Night at Anchor

Guest Post by Sandra Clayton

David and I once spent a summer sailing the south coast of England. One Saturday night we anchored in the Solent, off the Isle of Wight, at Osborne Bay. There, along with a handful of other yachts, our catamaran Voyager lay directly below Queen Victoria’s favourite royal residence, Osborne House. It was a warm, still evening and we had dinner out in the cockpit. 

It was positively tranquil until 8.30pm, when a full orchestra tuned up followed by a disembodied voice describing a piece of music. We assumed it was coming from Osborne House, although neither house nor grounds is visible from the anchorage because of a heavily-wooded bank rising steeply up from the beach. 

From somewhere behind the trees a concert began and we sat back to enjoy selections from Carmen and the Enigma Variations. Not everyone on the water was pleased. The skipper of Brave Heart, a small sloop anchored near the beach, gave the first item a slow-handclap, shouted his displeasure at the introduction to the second, and then stomped below slamming his washboards behind him. Meanwhile, in the gathering dusk, David and I stretched out among the cockpit cushions to enjoy a variety of restful pieces culminating in Serenade for Strings. 

It was therefore something of a shock when this was followed by what appeared to be a combination of canon fire and howitzers. My first thought was that Osborne House had gathered its antique artillery together and was taking revenge on the music-hating malcontent on Brave Heart. He appeared to think so, too, because he shot outside briefly to inspect his topsides, as if suspecting he’d been holed above the waterline. Other yachtsmen wandered their decks, bewildered by the noise. 

It turned out to be concert interval fireworks but, because of all the trees, only the sound reached us with not a single cascade or solitary rocket to be seen. During the second half an offshore wind got up, causing the introduction of each item to double in volume while the pieces themselves – a Sousa march, Land of Hope and Glory and the Sailor’s Hornpipe among them – got very loud indeed until finally overwhelmed by another barrage of fireworks. 

By now it was fully dark and, although the fireworks themselves were still unseen, the whole bay was lit up by thunderous red, white and green flashes as if a major assault was being waged on the anchorage from behind the trees. Adding to this impression was the whiff of gunpowder, drifting smoke and the wash from several passing freighters and a cruise ship which set all our boats thrashing. 

With our quiet night at anchor now resembling a war zone we fled indoors for relief. There was none to be had. Sound waves travel through water and if anything it was even noisier below than it had been up on deck. It was also extremely lurid thanks to the red, white and green flashing in through the hatches. There is not a lot you can do under these conditions except wait for them to end. In the meantime we slowly got ready for bed, our faces ghastly in the intermittent red and green glare, explosions rattling the saucepans and Rule Britannia booming up through the bilges. 

In the late ‘90s Sandra Clayton and her husband David sold up their home and set sail in a 40-foot catamaran. Since then they have covered around 40,000 miles and visited more than twenty countries. Nobody needs to sail to enjoy her books. They are written for anyone interested in travel, people and places and a different way of life. 

Her second book about their travels, Turtles In Our Wake, was published by Bloomsbury in March 2012. To learn more: http://sandraclayton.sharepoint.com.

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Posted on July 24, 2012, in Memoir. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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