The Tricky Affair of the Sinking Dinghy (A Dad and John Story)

As a small boy my summer holiday was almost always a series of hops, skips and jumps along the East Coast in a little 23 foot sailing boat. Our home port was Malden and with a fair wind we could often reach such exotic places as Harwich, Burnham and Brightlingsea. If time permitted we would make the perilous journey across the Thames Estuary to the seaside town of Ramsgate. In the diminutive Christabel every passage felt like a grand adventure that required bravery and seamanship in equally high measures. It never dawned on me that with a draft of 18" if we'd got into trouble we could have stepped off and walked home.

One day we found ourselves anchored off the hard at Queenborough. I was fishing with my crab line and Dad and his sailing mate Phil were down below.

As I sat watching the world go by a small dinghy caught my eye. It was full to overflowing with a large man, a large woman, three large children and an enormous dog.

As they motored past they sank. For an eight year old this sort of thing is important and interesting. I watched intently.

After a few minutes it was quite obvious to my young eyes that this family were not used to sinking. There was a lot of floundering and shouting and the dog appeared a particularly weak swimmer. I felt I should share the situation more widely. I leant down below. 'Dad? A dinghy has just gone past with some people in it, and a big dog, and its sunk.' .. 'What sort of dog?' Dad asked, 'A big one'  I replied. ... 'Ok where are they now' Dad asked. 'Just outside'. I said. Dad looked out of the port hole. 'Bloody hell Phil he's right'. He leapt to the rescue. 

Now, it's important to know that the only thing that came close to important to Dad apart from Christabel was his Avon Dinghy. He really loved it and would protect it at all costs from damage. Children would most probably heal but a damaged dinghy is a damaged dinghy. 

So it was bad luck that the first to spot the chance of rescue was large dog. His swimming had improved but it was quite clear he was ready for a lift. He saw the dinghy approaching and not unreasonably assumed he would be welcomed aboard.

This was not the case. The dog had claws and the claws had the potential to damage the dinghy. So instead of being warmly welcomed he actually received a swack on the head with an oar and a loud 'bugger off'.

This was not what he expected. I think he thought the whole oar thing had been a simple mistake so he had another go. Once again the dinghy was in grave peril so Dad had to send an even clearer message and he did so with an extra hard smack. Big dog  was now angry. His owners were non to pleased either but preoccupied for the moment with their own problems they did little. The rescue was going poorly. I watched on.

Dad rowed on manfully, occasionally whacking the dog over the head with an oar. One by one he loaded the people into the dinghy which in itself was getting perilously full.

Last in was the women who was placed in the back of the dinghy.  The dinghy was now stuffed to the gills to the point that big lady's knees were now stopping Dad rowing. I could hear raised voices from my comfortable viewing platform but it wasn't until years later I learnt the conversation that then took place.

Unable to row dad asked the lady if she would 'spread her legs'. He admitted afterwards it was a poorly worded request but cited the pressurised situation as the cause. The lady, who was not in the best of spirits declined. A Mexican stand off had developed and would have continued but for her partner's spirited intervention 'For fcks sake luv, spread your fckin legs or he won't be able to fckin row now will he?'.  A passionate exchange took place between the dog-boat parents. This was only interrupted by dad whacking the dog over the head and the associated cries of attempted dog murder from the children. In the end the lady begrudgingly opened up providing the vital rowing room that enabled the rescue to be completed.

The family were returned safely to the shore and I returned to my crab fishing.

Next in the 'Dad and John Series' .. the Brightlingsea Water Taxi Affair








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