Maxed Out 

At sea with the theory of relativity


Everybody, out of the Poole.

In lands where the climate is benign enough for outdoor swimming pools, lifeguards, when they’re not harassing kids about running or cannonballing off the high dive, keep a close watch on weather. If big, dark clouds get too near or start rumbling threats of lightning, they blow their whistle and hustle everybody out of the pool.

It was like that – in a perverse sort of way – in Poole, England, Sunday. Good weather; everybody out of the Poole. The window of tolerable conditions for crossing the English Channel was slight and the marina, jampacked with boats tethered two abreast in places because of some bank holiday, looked like the start of a Formula One race, everybody jockeying for position to squeeze out its narrow entrance at the same time. Cannon and tempers flared. Many ships were sunk and many more egos lay wounded and screaming. Or so it seemed.

I am convinced, having spent an unplanned week in England waiting for slightly less nasty weather, the story I was told in school about why Great Britain became such a vast colonial power was just another convenient lie. Theirs was no search for power, wealth and empire. It was a hunt for better weather. No wonder they thought Canada was a paradise.

But finally, we’re off. With a scant crew of three – the Pirate Princess of the Mediterranean, Peter the Wizard, the Human Windlass – and Mike the Mercenary who we took aboard on the spurious claim he knew how to make nice with the hostile natives where we planned to anchor the first night out, we nosed out of the safehaven of the harbour into the maelstrom. We’re cruising for pleasure and plunder but mostly we’re cruising to deliver the Princess’s new boat to its home in Malta, land of the famed malt tree.

I’m not certain "boat" is the right term. Having entered the land of Boatspeak – a subdialect of English, which a stay in England proved I have only a limited grasp of to begin with, laden with a historic and confusing jargon for simple, everyday terms – I’m not sure what to call this vessel. I thought it was a yacht but when I called it that, someone corrected me. Yachts have sails. Motoryacht is acceptable but seems pretentious and if these pedants want to get picky with me I’m more than happy to point out that motors are electric and engines are internal combustion so it’s actually an engineyacht Mr. Smartypants. I’ll stick with boat until something better comes along.

I thought, at 72 feet, it was a big boat. But boating is one of those activities that has a way of manifesting poignant examples of the theory of relativity every time you turn around. It seemed like a big boat when I first saw it, being bigger than the other boats around it at the marina. It shrunk dramatically when it pulled up next to another boat at the fuel dock that was 105 feet long. Both boats seemed like Tonka toys next to the scrap metal barge parked, er berthed, behind, er astern, of them.

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