The little table
It was my father’s dream to sail our boat Trooper to France and one day the opportunity came, sadly it did not turn out as planned. This true story shows ‘big is not always best’
The little drop-leaf dining table hand-crafted by my dad stood in the middle of the cabin between the bunks. It was referred to by those who knew about such things as a chart table and it was indeed used for reading maps, but it was also used as a writing desk, drawing board and a tea or coffee table. For my baby brother, known affectionately as ‘the boy’ it was a race track for dinky toys. But t it was not its usefulness, its grace or finely turned legs makes me remember it. It was its strength; made with matured mahogany and teak and strong brass hinges with engineered precision, along with a redundant Genoa which is a large jib or foresail it saved our lives that night.
The spare sail was stowed away in a cupboard with the ropes at the end of the cockpit until my Dad could trim and refit it for Trooper. But that night it was put to better use!
One August weekend we set sail for France; Trooper sailed due west from Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight towards the Needles, then south-easterly across the English Channel towards Cherbourg, it was a good clear night. Us girls and the boy were tucked up in bed and I remember nothing until I felt the boat toss and turn more than usual and my mother woke us, tied us into our lifejackets and put us back to bed. I remember sleepily the sound and the light of the flare as it shot across the sky. Peering from my bunk I can see my father standing on the aft deck with the tiller between his legs. My mother took the helm, standing in the cockpit as my father crawled along the deck as I heard the lifeboat approach and attempt to remove us children. The wind was hurricane force and the waves over 30ft high , well over our mast and too strong for lifeboat to come close enough to lift us children to safety ; fearing that the boats would break up. So we had to hold the boat still as possible until the winds and waves died down.
So my father lashed a rope to the table and threw it over the side. As it plunged into the water the leaves opened and it acted as sea anchor holding the boat against the force of the sea. Then the sail was lashed on its four corners and chucked over board as it fell it opened up like parachute, that, with the tables might was able to hold Trooper firmly against the angry seas only a few miles from Cherbourg for several hours until dawn broke and the wind and tide became little kinder.
I will never know why we didn’t continue into Cherbourg harbour that morning instead we sailed to Portsmouth but not before salvaging the sail and the table. The former was hung up to dry and then stowed in place until required again the latter soon back in place her dignity restored and set for breakfast.