MEMORIES of THALASSA and her splendid SKIPPER
(With apologies for the length but there’s so much to tell I really need a chapter to myself!)
    Above all Richard’s tolerance is legendary and clear evidence of this invariably arises when I am on board. “Oh Johnnie” is all he ever says in a sad but kindly tone when I have yet again failed in some simple task on deck, such as failing to release the downhaul and wondering why the jib won’t go up properly or causing overriding on the winches which I do know should be avoided when winding in rapidly after going about. Dear Richard never raises his voice in annoyance but how has he put up with me all the years he’s invited me on Thalassa as crew? And I will admit that in spite of his patient ongoing instructions I still haven’t fathomed out how to tie a bowline properly – but I can now manage to make a reef knot and not a messy granny. Richard’s navigational skills constantly amaze me, although now in the era of Thalassa sprouting all sorts of mysterious electronic devices which beep when we arrive where we should be, the skipper’s wizardry with compass bearings, tide tables and charts are less evident. I well recall in earlier days arriving off the northwest corner of Brittany towards dusk with the coastal details indistinguishable in the haze. As the sky changed Richard’s brow showed concern, “What is it skipper?” “Le Four light – one of the highest in France should be there but there’s no sign of it,” Richard answered pointing into the gloom and then rapidly disappearing below yet again to re-examine calculations and charts. “What course have you been steering?” came from below. It wasn’t the time to be humorous and respond “erratically as usual” so “exactly what you told us to” we countered to a man from the cockpit. “Well the light must be there” our skipper seemed affronted but at that very moment out shot a beam from the tower exactly where Richard had earlier indicated it should be. “Typical of the French” someone remarked ”saving electricity I suppose as usual.”
    Later that trip in darkness amidst the Chenel du Four I was instructed to keep a green light visible dead astern – up pops Richard from below “You are off course Johnnie – where’s that green light?” “There skipper” I pointed astern “Oh no! it’s red not green!” he exclaimed “go to port.” Thus he learned I was colour blind and therefore utterly useless differentiating between navigational marks at night – adding another entry to the catalogue of my failings – but not a word of annoyance as he had every right to be.
    I only got the better of Richard once over navigation in all the times I’ve been on Thalassa. We were crossing from Mersea to Ostend to sample the fine Dover soles available there. I was at the helm and we were motoring in a dead calm keeping exactly to the course Richard had set before he retired for an afternoon nap below. I felt so proud that he obviously trusted me to steer correctly what with no wind and a flat sea surface, so even I felt confident. Later Richard surfaced “Where’s the Kentish Knock?” What’s that skipper?” “A lightship.” In jocular Nelsonian vein I answered “I’ve seen no lightships!” “Well it must be there. Oh Johnnie you’ve been miles off course again!“ Much later that trip or the next I cannot remember exactly where or when we passed a Trinity House Tug towing a lightship with Kentish Knock prominently painted on her rust streaked sides. We both laughed but I confess it gave me an inner glow of satisfaction to know that for at least once I hadn’t got things wrong!
    “So why on earth do you love going on Thalassa?” my darling Auriel has often asked,” adding “the bunks aren’t exactly that cosy, the galley is ghastly in any sea and as for that loo!” Those who know me are aware I share others in the crew’s dedication to the “Fleshpots” of la belle France, also relished by our skipper of course. The restaurants of Brittany and Normandy have provided us with many memorable gastronomic feasts and these establishments draw us like a magnet whenever we are safely moored in some pretty port. Menus are perused and a general air of contentment abounds as the first glasses of Muscadet are sipped. I recall one such occasion when we were at Treguier – the entrèes of langoustines, fruits de mer, homard, crabe and so on had been demolished with relish and a fine communal bowl of green salad was plonked on the table for us to share. Fully aware of his superior status, us lowly crew members showed due deference and passed the bowl to Richard to serve himself first, when “Ooh la la” what was that crawling out of the green leaves onto his plate! Madame la patronne was immediately summoned and her stately well corseted form soon presented herself. One of us whose Franglais was a mite more fluent than the skipper’s remonstrated with the good lady. Lots of “absolument désolés – incroyables - complètement impossibles” mingled with a generous chorus of “Ooh là làs” were forthcoming “La salade à la limace“ (slug to you non francophiles) was swiftly removed. What was to be Madame’s offer to recompense us? All the wine we ordered would “naturellement” be on the house was her opening bid. “Pas suffisant” our linguist crew member responded “Il faut pour l’honneur de la cuisine de France d’offrir quelquechose spéciale à notre capitaine brave. Une indication d’amabilité personnelle fournis par vous seule Madame est la solution acceptable”. Madame’s eyes twinkled “d’accord messieurs” she agreed and raised the unsuspecting Richard from his chair enthusiastically embraced him, clutching him to her capacious bosom and kissing him robustly on both cheeks to the wholehearted applause of his crew. Richard for once was for a moment totally speechless, blushing under his tan, before uttering as usual “Oh Johnnie!”
    Happy days, so full of wonderful memories; we all owe you and your beloved Thalassa so much dear Richard. Johnnie Winther