We had been in Calais 19 days waiting for the wind to change. We were on vacation with our children
Day after day the southwest wind blew.
We simply HAD to have a favourable wind.
The children didn't think so.
I would cower in the stern cabin after the weather forecast, dreading to come into the galley amidships to announce that, once again, there was a 24-hour delay: 24 hours because I wanted to make the passage mostly in daylight. Very soon, I began to find excuses for not listening to the weather forecast, forgetting it, being out somewhere, or in some other way boycotting the wretched black instrument.
Claire was getting desperate. She had run out of amusements for the children days ago, and Calais wasn't fruitful of them in the first place. She began siding with the children, and I became more and more miserable, felt more of a failure, wished I had never gotten caught up in this boat business...
Wandering about Calais waiting for the wind to change, we came across a couple of Californians and their two children in a fishing smack. It was a powerful little boat, but the four of them looked exhausted after tending their bilge pumps day and night from their own bad stern leak. They had no money and couldn't afford to haul their smack for repairs. They offered to take us out in the bouncy weather outside the harbour, leave just before the top of the tide and back in time before the lock gates shut. I said they were foolish - the leak would only get worse. My children told the skipper not to pay any attention to me: I was a leak freak with port fever. So out we went, bounced around and came back. The smack now really was sinking. I couldn't do much for them, but I had no alternative but to dive yet again to stop their leak for a bit. It was becoming somewhat monotonous.
The next day, there was an ambiguous forecast. We had been there 19 days. I promised that I would set my alarm in the middle of the night to see whether we could go.
When the time came, it was flat calm. I really had no excuse. Sleepily I began to make preparations. I had this sense of doom, that we would never get out, and I was even resentful of Claire trying to ease my sleepiness by giving me a cup of coffee. I had no excuse for missing the tide. I gazed down the basin. The lock gates seemed miles away. They looked very narrow. I slowly checked everything for sea. The leak was not too bad. The children were roused.
As we started off for the lock gates, Virginia was peering out of the wheelhouse window to one side of me with Edith on the other. I was at the wheel. I gazed at the lock gates again. Never get through them, I thought with a knee-jerk reaction against previous lock gates, bridges, which crowd me so much that, to get through them, I have to breathe out or stoop down.
But as we got nearer, these lock gates were getting wider and wider apart. Most unusual, I thought. There was absolutely no doubt that we could get through, none whatsoever. Maybe we could find a way of by-passing the Costaud, go straight out into the Channel, stall around outside for the tide to change...
I stumbled slightly on an uneven board. Virginia was instantly alert. She caught me prematurely. It wasn't even a proper stumble, let alone a fall. She had been watching me intently.
When we reached the Costaud, Claire, who had been on deck managing the warps, came bustling up to the wheelhouse with: "Well, that did the trick, didn't it."
Virginia and Edith giggled. Edith said: "Mum, I think you gave him an overdose. He nearly fell over."
I asked what she had given me. "Oh, about ten milligrammes of valium," she said. "The same stuff I gave you when you pushed an electric wood augur between your fingers. A lot of chewed-up flesh, but no real damage. You couldn't even look at it yourself."