This points race was sailed in memory of Kurt Berger. Big Polly was sailed by Dave Berger and his mother Margaret. Other crews were: Comma – Andy R and Enoch R; Ho Ho Ho – Chris G and Mary S; Blue Angel – Lev K; Ellie – John B; Backwash – Ian N; Axolotl – Tim Y. Thanks to Chris Jones for acting as OOD while manning the safety boat.
A full report has been added under the report.
RACE REPORT: ‘C’ COURSE TO ISLEWORTH: SUNDAY 8 JULY 2018
What connects the six forward-facing 6-inch guns of HMS Belfast with SGSC and the
‘C’ course to Isleworth on a sunny and windless Sunday morning?
The answer is Kurt and Margaret Berger, 10 miles, and crucially, going backwards
under Kew Bridge.
It was Kurt who had confidently explained to Andy Ross, a newly arrived member of
the club, that quite the most delightful sailing that he and Margaret had ever enjoyed
was the ‘C’ course to Isleworth and back. Emboldened with this, your writer had
invited a prospective girl-friend at a Saturday night party to join him “on his yacht on
the Thames” for a Sunday morning sail. The following morning she actually turned
up; but rather splendidly over-dressed – and, importantly, much later than agreed.
It was a hot and windless day. The leisurely drift up to the bridge; settling in, chatting
about the night before, exchanging stories, went ever so smoothly. But approaching
Kew Bridge an apprehension that all was not well began to be felt. The arch looked
awfully low. And there was simply no way of steering the boat in the grip of the
current: Comma clattered into the roof of the bridge. The top of the mast wedged in
the brickwork. The boat slowly turned sideways with the hull braced against the flow
of the river; – and, luckily or else the mast would have snapped; over we went.
Without us, the boat released itself and we drifted out sideways under the bridge,
clinging onto the hull.
“How did you do that” asked a booming voice. It was Sir Richard Branson. He was
on a 16-person speedboat rib. He and a guy named John Evans, his Events
Director. They brought us alongside and we moored up at the pontoons at the Kew
jetty – and I began to bale the boat out; while the girlfriend immediately and very
gratefully got on board the rib.
It turned out that they were prospecting the idea John had for a limousine service
bringing 1 st Class passengers from Heathrow down to Brentford Dock – for a high
speed rib journey down to the Tower of London.
John was quite a character. He’d got himself into the SAS by climbing up the anchor
chain of HMS Belfast at night; breaking into the bridge, jumping-starting the ignition
key, opening up the Fire Control Table – and finding he had access to the optical
range finder which enabled mechanical targeting of the guns at 45 degrees with a
radius of exactly 10 miles: Kew Bridge. He got on the radio to a [no doubt extremely
surprised] telephone operator at the Ministry of Defence – and said he would launch
a barrage of 112lb shells – unless they recruited him into the SAS. Which they did.
Sufficiently dried off, and baled out – and well-lubricated with a bottle of champagne
inside us, and with two more bottles “to be stowed onboard for ballast”; together with
invitations to the limousine launch event to be held on HMS Belfast; we got back
onboard. I have to say, the girlfriend, very uncharitably, showed extreme reluctance
at the prospect of resuming the ‘C’ course, with me.
So it was, yesterday, that with Enoch on boat as crew [sadly not even remotely
pretending to be a girlfriend] we set off early – so as to get under Kew Bridge in time;
which we did, and we drew up alongside the very same Kew pontoon jetty.
Next to arrive were David Berger – and Margaret – remarkably and very
appropriately on a memorial cruise in memory of Kurt and their affection for the ‘C’
course; on a warm and balmy day for such a leisurely sail – and with an object lesson
in how to negotiate Kew Bridge.
With Chris Jones on the Safety Boat, the technique is to ensure the line-up to the
centre arch is established at least 100 metres beforehand. And for the Safety Boat to
be in reverse position with regard to the run of the current; i.e. facing the incoming
tide – with the engine idling in forward gear.
Then, with the sailing boat alongside facing forward going upstream with full sail up,
the helm can step onto the Safety Boat, heel the boat over with the side stay – and
together let the river slowly carry the pair under the bridge. Everyone can see where
they are, what they are doing; and the driver has full control. The trick is going
backward under Kew Bridge; and the right way up!
Soon we were joined by Chris Greenwood and Mary Short, then John Bull, Tim, Lev
and Ian; and we all moored somewhat insecurely alongside the houseboats; until
Chris decided everyone was impatient to go – and we set off with a start at 09.46.
With only the odd puff of wind everyone was still all together at Brentford Dock;
surprisingly all able to have a sociable chat with each other along the way. Dave,
who had been last to leave, joining us with the comment that:
“So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen”.
[Matthew 20:16 King James Version]
And that provoked Enoch to say that, in rummaging through the attic of his house in
St Albans he’d come across many fragments of some really old letters. Amazingly,
they appeared to be letters in reply to St. Paul’s letters in the New Testament. He
had written so many – but none of them seem to have ever been answered by
anyone. Were these they?
What did they say? One apparently read like this:
“My proper pukka mate Paul,
What a really great fast food pop-up event you staged last week. Those loaves and
fishes; what a brilliant concept! That Italian friend of yours, Carluccio, he’s really got
talent. Nothing fancy. Dead cheap ingredients. Sardines out of the sea. Coated in
olive oil and salt and pepper. Then rolled in your own Paul’s bakery breadcrumbs,
sun-dried leftovers from yesterday’s loaf baking, sprinkled with oregano, flash-fried
on the embers of the seashore bonfire; and when they’re golden and crispy – they’re
done! A sprinkle of lemon juice and you’ve got something not just to feed the 5,000
but, think big, the whole Mediterranean! If you’re expanding the franchise you need
to ditch Paul & Antonio; it’s too gay. If you’re taking it to France, go for something
that’s ready to eat; how does Prêt a Manger sound in French? Yours, Jamie.
As the Safety Boat toddled along behind the fleet there was some discussion on
whether we’d actually get to a buoy up at Isleworth, or to drop it early? Eventually it
was thought the line of the concrete wall by the church would do. The wind was
giving no-one any particular advantage. And so the whole fleet converged, almost
simultaneously, on the buoy.
It appeared that Ian was the first round – evidenced in his whoop of pleasure, with a
scramble and some bumping as everyone else jostled about it.
Except Tim. It was as if his boat had a bloodhounds’ instinct for its normal
destination of the bar at the London Apprentice – and it headed straight on up there
for a pint, despite Tim’s urgent tiller-waggling to tell it that was totally wrong.
Heading into the North bank and the easier current, everyone got stuck on the still-
incoming tide with a minimal wind. Easing out to gain some water, only to be swept
back – then easing out again; only for the sequence to be repeated.
Chris in the lead, and then Dave, tried out the opposite bank. But the effort to get
there produced no obvious difference in distance gained.
Ian found his lead was completely lost as he got caught in an eddy by the bank and
then found himself enshrouded in long lines of willow tree branches. His frustration
grew noticeably in strength and temper even to the point where it was thought he
might very volubly suddenly employ the crudely horrible scatological language of the
ex-Foreign Secretary; much like his reputation now is in: “polishing a tree”. But no.
It so happens that a photograph was taken of this moment. A picture was taken by
someone on the Kew riverbank of the line of three boats against the Syon Park
woodland; John Bull’s white sail, Andy and Enoch’s blue sail, Ian’s translucent sail –
which was the picture shown on BBC 1 throughout the evening on the day’s weather
forecast to illustrate the calm and peaceful river side setting of the hottest day of the
year. Little did the picture-taker – or, of course, the millions watching, actually know!
Rather like a long line of dough being rolled out into a baguette, and separated into
batons to be baked in the oven, so the fleet gradually dispersed as the tide eased
and the wind picked up.
And another fragment of the letters to St Paul came to mind:
Good to hear about your plan to go to Rome. Now then, regarding that fiasco in the
temple last month when your friend Jesus tipped over all the money-changers’ tables
in the crypt, which I had to sort out. It caused all sorts of trouble; runs on the
currencies with them spilling everywhere. Thing is; these guys are making a fortune
on the margins. What we need is a simpler system; something I’m calling a common
market currency. Do away with all this ridiculous waste of precious metal. We need
a standard for everyone to make money on. The Romans won’t like it. They always
want to monopolise everything. And the Greeks won’t even have a bath unless they
can get the drugs and the illegal migrant money without paying any tax. What we
need is your clever idea of a temple crypt currency: a crypto-currency for short.
Look, I’m sending you a bag-load of all these old currency coins I swept up from the
floor on the next ship to Rome. I want to buy into your faith idea. I want you to buy a
really big building in Rome; by all means call it a church if you wish [I think cathedral
sounds better] – and stick your name above the door. On the dome is even better
Money is all about faith. I met this Anglo fellow the other day; said he was from the
City of London [never heard of it] – and, of course, he didn’t speak any Arabic. But
what he did say was “My word is my bond”. I like that! I think that’s good enough to
trade with him; you could even set up a ‘bond market’ – with good faith on all sides,
of course. If you find the right building I think we can go global with this: “faith in
banking idea”; might even call it Yes-we-can / Bankican / Vatican? I’ll make you
Managing Director. How does that work for you? Let me know what you think when
you get to Rome. Do please look after my money and send me regular accounts.
As the fleet neared the finishing line there still wasn’t much in it between everyone.
Chris acting as both OOD and Safety Boat operator blew the whistle as they crossed
the line and came round to moor in together alongside the Kew pontoon barges.
One by one, the same reverse guidance technique of pairing a forward-facing sailing
boat with an up-stream facing Safety Boat enabled the passage under the bridge,
drifting very slowly with a high tide still flowing quickly, to be completed safely.
Comma dropped her sails completely, which were scarcely needed anyway in the
faint wind – and glided under this potentially traumatic bridge, and paddled home.
Meanwhile Enoch recalled another fragment found amongst the long-lost replies to
St Paul; though it probably will need Mary Short, just returned from a month-long
Ramadan experience in Jordan, to provide the exactly right Arabic translation. But it
seemed to read something like this:
“Hi there Paul,
Great to see you at the bunga-bunga boat party last weekend. Wasn’t it amazing!
Those girls from Ephesus are absolute stunners aren’t they? No wonder you were so
shocked: seeing something you shouldn’t have! That’s my kind of party! And I really
liked your expression: “God blind me!” I’m going to use it to publicize the next event.
I’ll add some pretty graphic descriptions on page three to go with the headline: “Cor
blimey!” Really hope you can come. I’m hoping a new guy I’ve heard of called
Donald will show up too; sounds like he’s a bit of a party animal too, just like you! It’s
an open-shorts invitation. No need for another long letter. Just drop me a note if
you’re coming to say: “Me Too!”
And so the boats were safely tucked up tight in their beds, though without tea, or
champagne, after a memorable – and a memorial – ‘C’ course.
© Andy Ross