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Sailing 40 years ago: John Simpson’s tale of two jerry cans

Rich's cartoon for Two Jerry Cans. (2)
Cartoon by John’s friend Rich

My thanks to John Simpson for another story of sailing in years gone by!

‘We received a fantastic greeting in Durban from our Breton mate Jean-Pierre, after completing an interesting twenty-one days voyage.

‘Unfortunately we‘d been towed the last few yards by the harbourmaster’s launch. The engine had given up the ghost during our last week at sea.

‘Now it happened that we’d meet J-P in Mauritius a couple of months before, when he’d been a completely heartbroken man. He and his mate had set sail from Brittany in a 25ft wooden Vertue. Whilst re-fitting in Port Louis they’d both fallen in love with Captain Betuall’s young and beautiful daughter – the retired captain ran a dry-dock for shipping in the port, but was also a keen yachtsman who allowed visiting yachts to slip behind a ship for practically nothing…

‘The two lovesick friends had used good French logic to solved their dilemma. The lady picked her man and the loser (J-P!) carried on sailing their Vertue, and would hopefully complete a circumnavigation…

‘Almost before we’d completely finished the usual South Africa formalities of talking with the harbour master, the police, immigration and customs we brought our ketch was alongside and JP plonked down two of five gallon jerrycans, that he’d borrowed when we last saw him.

‘They were full of wine (one of red wine and one of white) and immediately I could see we were going to be in trouble. Then he began telling us of his own fantastic voyage from Mauritius two months before…

‘After leaving Port Louis he’d naturally decided to visit the French island of Reunion just a couple of hundred miles away.
Having spent a pleasant break there but realising that the risk of cyclones was growing, he left only to be stopped by the Captain of a French warship shortly afterwards in international waters because he wasn’t flying the French tricolor – for Breton J-P him it completely right to use the Breton flag as his ensign.

‘The incident caused a near mutiny on the destroyer, however, as most of the crew were from Brittany, and a somewhat French compromise was reached: Jean-Pierre and his boat would be lifted onto the shipand he would be the captain’s guest while the destroyer went on exercises.

‘Then they dropped his yacht and him back into the water roughly a thousand miles closer to Durban and loading him up with fresh food and wine – at that time French warships all had tanks of red and white aboard, rather like some British yachts today.

‘It took him another couple more weeks at sea before he made into Durban and having filled everything on the boat with wine he had run out of drinking water, and been forced to use his pressure cooker to distil fresh water from salt.

‘By the time J-P had finished his tale, our boat was full of other yachties and we were all quite merry. I was below cooking up onions sandwiches – we hadn’t got much fresh food left – and it was this point that the South African immigration folks decided to board us.
Harry, a Dutch crewman I’d picked up in Mauritius certainly didn’t help our cause when he yelled out: “They seem to speak a very old fashioned Dutch rather like children.”

It was probably thanks to him that during the first month of our visit in Durban we had to report weekly to the Durban Port Captain and we weren’t allowed out of the dock area. But it was worth all of that to hear J-P’s fantastic yarn…

NB. Imperial gallons are eight pints as opposed to a US gallon of just six – so it was a pretty good amount of wine!

A day on the water, with your motorbike

More photos from the 2016 Medway Barge Match

This time, it’s a selection I shot using a film camera…

Old boats, traditional boats, boat building, restoration, the sea and the North Kent Coast – Gavin Atkin's weblog