The Wreck Eaters.
This was nearly two months ago now, and incidentally one of the best weekends I’ve had for ages. But blow me, could I get the words together to explain it all? No, and I was sorely tempted to just publish my notes on the matter and let you, the reader, try to make sense of them if you will. In fact, that’d be a bloody good idea. Except for all the scribbly bits in the margins, which don’t really type all that well and even I can’t remember what they’re supposed to mean anyway.
Do you remember that unprovoked Indian summer’s friday night at the end of September? Three of us took an overnight bike ride from London to Littlehampton in honour of Jan’s birthday, the joy of cycling and, well, because we could. I chose a hilly backroads route that ensured dark, starry solitude, a few nasty big climbs and LOTS of screaming into the darkness long fast descents. Total distance for our route, about sixty miles. Jan (who as I’m about to illustrate is clearly insane) did this fixed, a feat which ten years ago I would’ve gone for, but these days must say I prefer gears, a freewheel, and brakes, touring in style. The last couple of miles home from the back of Arundel were the best descent of the lot, and we therefore arrived at Wendy at 3.30am experiencing a sweaty sort of sense of glee. We used to do these kind of overnight country rides all the time, although having my own boat as a destination is a new one. Since giving cycling up as an, um, profession (?!), I’m sorry to report that my legs aren’t what they used to be but still, I loved it all the same.
It’s what we did for the rest of the weekend that I really want to write about though.
There was a wooden 60’wreck laid on her beams alongside our own vessel. It had clearly been there a long time and I’d recently noticed that it was starting to break up. This bothered me, so I’d made the decision to break it in a controlled manner before tidal action did it in a less predictable way. (and on the Thursday prior to the bike ride had made a mad preparatory dash in convoy with Becky to deliver large amounts of tools, wellies, beer and a car to get home in on Sunday when we were done.)
As soon as everyone was properly awake and had rubbed their knees a bit we took Becky’s chainsaw to the rotten old hulk. Dismantling the bulk of the teak, oak and pitch pine wreck was a lot easier than I’d imagined it would be. This was probably because when Jan got hold of the chainsaw I glimpsed that faraway look in his eyes that means it’s probably time to stand well back for fear of losing a limb. So I did, quickly deciding that perhaps I should instead gather up some of the flak that he was rapidly creating. I got the waders on and happily sploshed around for hours; first in the mud, then in the advancing tide, shepherding bits of wood back to a growing pile on the shore. It was a belting sunny day and everybody, already sticky from overnight cycling quickly became coated in a mixture of 2 stroke exhaust, sawdust and mud. We tied ropes to the bigger chunks and when the tide came right in they were floated around our vessel and piled up too. At high water everyone downed tools and we wandered down to the beach for a welcome swim in sea. I’m still not sure why everyone found the fact that I’d taken a bar of soap in with me so amusing though.
Back at the boat. With the sun going down we built a big fire of the worst bits of wreck and it was time to ingest beer. Later we barbequed burgers on embers and at some point after that I showed my age by conking out in front of it, sorry boys. Sunday morning rolled around and unsurprisingly I woke first, found the embers still glowing so stoked them up, made some coffee and warmed myself while picking fluff out of my bellybutton and considering the universe in that ‘I’m the only living boy in West Sussex’ way that I love so much about sunrise at the boat.
Sunday was more or less a repeat performance, with Jan determined to carry on being a one-man deforestation problem, except by now he was running out of wreck. At least, he was running out of bits that were not completely submerged in the mud or full of concrete. I know he was having a good time, I know this because since then I’ve lost track of the number of conversations we’ve had that revolve around getting at the rest of the wreck and cutting that up too. Due at least in part to this, there’s a part two to this little story, coming next.