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English Interlude

Almost immediately that we arrived back in Mar del Plata, we began preparing for our trip back to England. Most cruisers, when they leave their boat for a few months tend to haul out, as they feel the boat is safer ashore. After the photos of the carnage on the hard at Piriapolis, and for that matter in Grenada, we have our doubts. In any case, a wooden, carvel- built boat like Sunstone should not really be left out of the water for several months in a dry climate. With this in mind we had done all we could to ensure Sunstone's water-tightness during our haul-out at Piriapolis and then took all the precautions we could before leaving her in the water at Mar del Plata. We were both rationally and emotionally concerned, as it would be the longest we had ever been away from the boat in 25 years. At the same time, we prepared for the shock of returning to a much changed UK. We borrowed an extra suitcase and made several practice attempts at fitting in all the clobber we needed to take back to England. At the back of our minds was also the knowledge of all the things we would need to bring back!

 

Boats blown down on the hard-standing at Piriapolis, Uruguay

With a whimsical pat on the deck, lines doubled up everywhere and assurances from our new local friends Norman and Hazel Jenkins that they would keep an eye on Sunstone, we set off for Buenos Aires. Unlike other South American bus rides we had taken, the 5 hours to BA, though in the comfort of a first class airline seat, is very tedious. The pampas scenery is flatter and duller than Essex. However, we spent a pleasant day in BA, exploring some of the many plazas and monuments among the broad tree-lined avenidas, almost all apparently named in good Latin fashion for political ideals, revolutionary dates or military heroes. In the evening we had a pleasant dinner with Tomas, our bowman from the Semana de Vela, and caught up with his dinghy-sailing exploits.

Our British Airways night flight was uneventful until about a half an hour before landing. It was a perfectly clear late summer morning over southern England as the plane eased lower along the South Coast. The Isle of Wight came clear on our starboard side and it was equally clear to us that we would be passing almost directly over Sunstone's previous home in the Hamble River, just to the south of Southampton. It could hardly have been better arranged for a nostalgic home-coming. Fortunately Annabel had arranged for a car to meet us at the Heathrow, thus avoiding the hassle of renting, or worse yet attempting the trip across London and then onto a train. The idea of negotiating the northern circuit of the M25 in our tired, jet-lagged state was not one to inspire confidence in our continued survival. Our driver whisked us around the traffic jams back to the Coach House in Great Bentley for our reunion with Annabel, Dave, Fiona and Dave's parents, who were on a visit from their home in Australia.

 

 

Annabel's kind loan of her car then enabled us to continue our way south to Rotherfield for a stay with Tom's mother, Erika, during the final weeks of her summer in England. Though Vicky's mobility was increasingly limited, we made two short trips: one to see the beautiful ancient house, Ightam Mote; the other to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, where Vicky was particularly keen to see the observatory. We combined the latter with an opportunity to attend a committee meeting of the Ocean Cruising Club at the Royal Thames YC. As Roving Rear Commodores, we have had little to do with the business of the Club, but it was interesting to hear more about that business and to get to know the other committee members.

 

 

In the midst of all this touring we were becoming reacquainted with all those minor details of English life which resonate with Brits abroad.

 

 

 

 

 

Partly to make the necessary pre-op visit to Bournemouth and partly as a reminiscent tour, we took a swing through Southern England, taking in the Southampton Boat Show and visits to Sunstone's previous home on the Hamble, as well as to relatives and friends. However crowded England now seems to us, what remains of the English countryside is still some of the prettiest in the world and the villages of Somerset, Wiltshire and the West Country are some of the most attractive anywhere. The highlight of our tour was a reunion party of former crew members, very kindly and superbly organised by our racing friends Chris and Georgie Brown - with the able assistance of our former bowman, Richard Glen. It was wonderful to catch up once again with the crew members who had made Sunstone's successes possible, and to be reminded just how much fun they were to be with. We were very grateful to Chris and George for making it possible and to Mark, Richard, John, John & Viv and Kim & Amanda.

 

 

At the beginning of October we moved to Bournemouth in preparation for Vicky's operation. Our friends', David and Rose Shepherd, help, kindness and hospitality over the course of most of that month made the affair as painless as such things can possibly be. Our roving lives rarely allow us the luxury of getting to know anther couple really well. The weeks in David and Rose's home gave us the opportunity to confirm what wonderful people they are and how lucky we are to have them as friends. The operation went smoothly and Vicky was out of hospital in short order, exercising relentlessly in order to re-learn how to walk properly with two legs of much the same length. Having assured herself the Vicky was both on the way to recovery and in very good hands, Erika, Tom's Mum headed back for her annual return to New York.

 

Once Vicky reached reasonable level of fitness, we returned to Great Bentley. However, we had already committed ourselves to giving a talk at the Royal Ocean Racing Club about our cruising and racing travels and so made the trip up to London once again. To our surprise the talk was a sell out and appeared to go down well. Once again we were fortunate to be able to catch up with some more sailing friends.

 

We took the opportunity of our London visit to take in some more very British sights and to take a spin on the huge bicycle wheel that adorns the South Bank of the Thames. The London Eye, sitting almost directly opposite the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey makes a slightly discordant contribution to that part of the London sky-line. However, the views are stunning and the technology is remarkable. It is also an attraction which draws not only foreign tourists, but many British as well.

 

 Annabel, Dave and Vicky made a pilgramage to the wilds of Norfolk to visit family friends, Mike and Pooh Curtis. They initially departed in style in Dave's Jag, which proved temperamental, sulked and had to be brought home - fortunately before they had gone more than a few miles. They completed the journey more reliably, but in considerably less comfort in the Astra van.

 

November opened with two momentous occasions. Vicky celebrated her first birthday back on British soil in many years. Special menus were prepared and the birthday celebration was a gourmet delight, quite apart from the selection of wines. Unfortunately, the second occasion was Tom's flight back to Argentina. Sunstone had been left quite long enough and with Vicky well on the way to recovery, it was time to see to Sunstone's needs. Apart from humping large quantities of boat bits through airports, Tom's flight was uneventful. In Buenos Aires, our crewman's, Tomas Ocampo, delightful family very kindly gave Tom a bed for the night, so that he wouldn't have to go back to a Mar del Plata still in the throes of the Summit of the Americas, with its associated protests and high level security. He arrived back to find Sunstone still bobbing happily in her slip apparently no different from when he had left - apart from the need for a good deal of new varnish.

With Tom away, Vicky was free to indulge in a variety of sisterly pursuits with Annabel and Fiona, including a lunch at the West Mersea Yacht Club, a trip on Fiona's motor boat, Gamine, and visits to Annabel's work room. The culmination of all this sibling activity was the amateur singing of the Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall, an event in which Annabel has participated for years and in which Vicky joined this time.

 

 

Vicky had timed her flight back 'home' so that she could still be with Annabel for her 50th birthday party. With a garden full of marquee and a marquee full of food, wine and friends, the party went well enough to compensate Annabel for her advancing years.

 

 

Despite threats of protests and strikes, Vicky's flight, passage through customs and arrival went smoothly. Tom braved the tedium of the bus journey both to and from Buenos Aires in the same day to collect her. By evening she had been translated from the gloom of English winter to the long hours of sunshine in the southern summer, with an obvious requirement to do some serious sun-bathing to catch up on her tan. The only down-side of her return to Sunstone was having to listen to a tedious recital of all the maintenance and improvement projects which Tom had completed in her absence. It was good to have Sunstone's full crew complement back on board and at home.

 

 

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