This is from my new memoir which has the working title ‘Elopement.’ It is a story about John’s and my courtship and marriage when we were in our early seventies. ‘There’s always something to be done on a boat,’ John said over lunch in Kings Park. ‘One day I’ll smarten up the inside a bit. Retouch the varnish here and there. Repaint most of it.’
‘Sounds like fun,’ I said.
I knew I’d love to help and found myself surprisingly keen to get involved on the yacht he’d told me so much about. But I was also cautious. I didn’t know where this new friendship was going and I didn’t want John to think I was a too eager volunteer, as well he might if I offered to help. And I wasn’t sure what his family would say if I were to be around too much. After all, he’d made it quite clear that he shared his boat with them. One of the first things he’d done was to show me where everyone slept on board, and the harnesses they used to restrain the children and keep them safe. There was no space on-board for another adult.
Within a week I was in my oldest clothes on one of my days off, painting beside John.
It seems I had thrown caution to the gulls that swooped and screeched around outside, and we spent hours in the deeply companionable interior, barely above the water-line. Hidden from the gaze of passers-by, we cleaned, scraped, painted and varnished. From time-to-time we paused to admire our handiwork as surfaces began to gleam. I began to learn a new language: sea jargon, yacht conversation.
I loved the gentle motion that rocked us into each other’s small orbit; we touched, as if by accident as we worked. And still we pretended we hadn’t noticed.
Some days we changed from our paint-splashed work shorts and T-shirts into neater, cleaner clothes before we went to lunch in the expansive, light-filled galley of the yacht club. We sat at what quickly became our usual table near one of the windows where we looked out at the jetties and boats as we ate seafood and salad. Mock-seriously we toasted ourselves and Amigo in wine (mine a splash in the bottom of a glass) or else we sipped frothy coffee.
Other days John brought a picnic lunch. Then we lit the methylated spirit stove in Amigo’s diminutive galley. At first, until I gained some competence, this was a dangerous and thrilling activity, because of the tendency of the fuel to spill and catch alight, threatening to set fire to the bench and cupboards. We made half-full mugs of instant coffee which somehow tasted delicious in that setting. I’ve always liked a full measure of hot coffee, not a splash that quickly cools in the wind. But on a boat, full cups spill easily, so the rule was to make half cups, even in when the boat was safely in port.
Sometimes John sailed to Rottnest for the weekend with some of his family. One morning, when he and I returned to Amigo, the yacht was untidy with damp, salty towels and dirty with crumbs and gritty sand. It smelled of fried fish and burnt toast and bacon.