Bill Mills' room

Bill Mills

Portpatrick Sherpa

by  Bill Mills

That summer we had been down the east coast of Ireland as far as Dunlaoghaire and were on our way back to the Clyde.  One of our stopping places was Portpatrick.  We were still enjoying a tremendous run of good weather.

          I suppose you could have called us The Twenties.  The skipper was sixty-three.  I was twenty years younger and our stalwart third man was twenty years younger again.

          When we arrived at Portpatrick we lay alongside a 36 foot yacht that was obviously fitted out for long distance sailing.  We noted substantial jackstays running from outside the cockpit to right forward.  Aries wind vane self steering.  Wind and Water driven generators.  Steps running all the way up the mast for ease of rigging repairs.  VHF aerial at top of mast and spare aerial attached to the pushpit.  Navigation aerials.  SSB radio aerial.  American style radar reflector and radar.  Strong ‘granny-rails’ on the deck around the base of the mast for clipping on.  Lots of other sensible extras for the long distance cruising man.

          We met the owner, a very fit man of 72 years who cruised extensively single-handed .  From the time of meeting this fine specimen of Senior Citiizenship our skipper wanted to prove that he was as fit as our neighbour.  And he wasn’t.

          Our boat was lying rafted out to five other boats.  We decided in the cause of good seamanship to run our warps ashore rather than rely on being secured to the next boat.  Normally our third man would have taken the heavy warp ashore to do the job.  But no.  This time the skipper insisted that he would do it.

          As I have said, it was great weather.  Everyone was dressed to take advantage of it.  Our skipper was also dressed for the clement weather – with a difference.  One of those white Aussie tennis hats on his head, the brim pulled down low to protect his already blistered nose.  His glowing upper body had been bare since he had seen the 72 year old’s firm brown body.  His shorts were the very wide legged variety and on his feet were a nice new pair of plimsolls.

          We tried to dissuade him but short of hurting his feelings, had to let him go.  Slowly he worked his way over the rails and decks of the other five yachts with our longest and heaviest warp carried over his shoulder like a bandolier.  Refusing several offers of help on the way, he payed it out bit by bit.  At last he was at the quay wall and we were really worried.  It was low water and it was a long way to the top.  Very carefully he worked his way up the buckled ladder.

          On the innermost boat there were four fine lassies sunbathing on the foredeck just beside the ladder.  We noticed that now they were rolling about in paroxysms of laughter and pointing upwards.  As our skipper got higher up the ladder more people started looking up and laughing.  Embarrassed, the two of us retired into the cabin as we remembered that our Sherpa skipper also wore wide legged underpants.

          In his defence let me say that he did get the warp ashore and secured in a seamanlike fashion but he couldn’t understand why his crew were suddenly loath to leave the cabin to go ashore to the pub for a drink.

         Bill Mills