A river journey, (part true, half true and fiction).

I bumped into an old friend of mine whilst walking through town yesterday. I was looking for some maps and a blue panama hat, things I feel I will want if I attempt a long walk South, through France and Spain and a ferry to the Canary islands, and then onto the smallest most Westerly island called El Hierro, my personal island of magic and relaxation.

I scoured the charity shops and came away with a map of Brittany, then found a local map on marketplace, but no blue panama hat as yet.

I hadn’t seen Jenson since 2017 when he had recounted his venture to a Greek island which I wrote about in my short e book, The Briefcase, (available on Amazon!). He was cleaning beaches of plastic when he made an equally important find the other side of the island.

We sat down and had a coffee. He said that he had another boat story to tell me. I put my listening cap on because Jenson’s stories are always good-in my opinion.

It was earlier in the year and Jenson, as usual, was trying to find a way to be of use on the planet. His frustrations often came to a head, and at that point he would pray. He would put out a request to somehow be of use and to do some good. Jenson was living in one of the local boatyards on his boat called Surething. Surething was confined to living on the concrete hard standing in the yard. She wouldn’t be going to sea again, converting her 19 foot length into a liveaboard meant cutting holes in her and adding bits here and there that made her unseaworthy, but Jenson also felt like living on the river, not maybe for ever, but for the experience.

He made that prayer. He asked God, the Universe, whoever, whatever, to put something in his way, to offer him guidance. And it came quick! As he walked into the yard that night he found a couple of people that he knew chatting by the cafe. Someone had offered a very good deal on a small local boat. It was a 14 foot 6 inch sailboat called Cheesecake which was ready to sail, and came with a local mooring which cost only fifty pounds a year. The owner wanted £200 for the boat, and the remainder of £400 paid by the end of the year. And that was six months away.

The other guys weren’t interested so Jenson found the owner and said could he have it. The only thing Jenson wanted to stipulate was that if he himself wanted to sell the boat before the end of the year then he could, and he would pay the balance immediately on that sale. Jenson felt strongly that this was the way to go, and the owner agreed. Jenson paid the £200 and immediately became the owner of a small seaworthy sailing boat, which had its own mooring on the river. Things can happen fast when you ask the right question.

Jenson took a few navigation lessons from a local chap who knew the river well. They went out a couple of times too so that Jenson could get a sense of what it was like to sail on a tidal river. He bought some local river maps, made sure he had all the safety gear on board, told his mates where he was going and two weeks to the day since purchase, he was off on a small adventure. His goal was to sail ten miles up river on an incoming tide, stay at anchor in a spot he knew was a good anchorage, and then return, somehow, sometime! He knew this was a trip following his gut feeling. He was not after any results. He just wanted a few nights of silence, rocking in his boat, talking to God, and then as he said, to return, hopefully somehow having done some good.

It was an easy sail. The wind was behind him. It was a clear day, and in three hours he had found his anchorage spot, in a sort of bay, protected from any wind from most directions. He had food, water, a radio, a portable typewriter and paper. He had a gas stove, sleeping bag, warm clothes, and a very very still night to sleep through.

Jenson ordered us both another coffee, and carried on with his story.

He had spent all day just chilling at anchor. There was nowhere to go, nowhere needed to go that is. There was a gentle breeze and the boat swung easily on her anchor. He was totally alone. But for one red blotch ashore, that didn’t seem to fit into the surroundings. There were the browns of tree trunks, greens of leaves and vegetation. There were the greens, blues and browns of the surrounding river water, yet for some reason this blotch of red. It was about two hundred meters from Jenson, and it got him curious. But the day passed by and another night of silence started.

But there was disturbance, and Jenson couldn’t work out what that disturbance was. It sounded a bit like someone sobbing. But surely not. There was no one around here, no houses, no roads, no music, no human activity at all, he thought. But this noise, this sobbing sound continued. In fact, to Jenson’s alarm, at one point, there was a torturous wail. The night was dark, the wind slight, and a wail tore across the waters. It was a wail of such ferocity that Jenson stopped breathing. He listened intently. But that was it. The wail had stopped. Jenson was pretty shook up. He decided to go ashore in the morning and see if he could find out what the wail was and where it had come from. Yes, it shook him up, he said, but for some reason there seemed to be some goodness within that wail. He slept soundly because deep down inside himself he had a strong feeling that all would be well, and that somehow within that torturous wail lay healing.

Jenson woke with great intention for the day ahead. He knew what he wanted to do, so having washed and eaten, he pumped up the rubber dinghy that came with the sale of the boat, and rowed towards the red blotch not far away up river. The red blotch was a tent, a very smart new tent as it seemed and as Jenson stepped out of the dinghy which he pulled up ashore, the zip came down at the tent entrance and out stepped a young man. He was clean shaven, well dressed, and didn’t look particularly disturbed to see Jenson.

Jenson said hi, the fella said hi. Jenson immediately asked the chap what he was doing here. Camping was the answer!

This young man who had just stepped fully dressed out of his tent looked like he had just appeared from a camping magazine. He had a brand new black anorak on, clean blue jeans, a smart red jumper, and a decent pair of what looked like new work boots on his feet.

“What’s going on”? said Jenson. There were no airs and graces here. There were two people in the middle of nature, unknown to each other, no seeming threat to each other, who needed to break the ice.

“I’ve just got out of prison,” said the fella. “Got freed last night.” I was given a black bag with clothes, wash stuff, a sleeping bag, a mug, plate etc., and this red tent. I was given forty quid in cash, so I got to the nearest train station and headed to the nearest port I could. I think there’s a big sailing community here. Is that correct?”

And Jenson simply replied, “Yes”. This town had one of the biggest sailing communities in the country. “Yes,” Jenson said again, “You might have come to the right place.”

Jenson and I moved out of the cafe and continued our walk along the seafront. “So what happened Jenson?” I said, “What happened?”

“Well, it was magic really. I asked him what he was going to do. He said he was looking for a boat. He needed somewhere to live and he had lived on boats before and was actually a pretty good sailor. He had £1000 in his bank account. And we did the deal there and then! He transferred £600 into my account as I still had battery left on my phone. He packed up his tent and bag. We rowed back to the boat. He unpacked his black bag, which he gave to me. I packed my new black bag with my stuff from the boat. And we sailed back to the mooring-his mooring”.

“It was a very good day,” Jenson said to me, “A very good day. I couldn’t, and still can’t, find any fault in what happened”.


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