Richard and I sailed from Portsmouth down to the Mediterranean a few years ago. We kept meeting sailors going the other way.
"Turn round and head back to France. The Med sucks," they all advised, with rolling eyes like Robert Newton in Treasure Island.
We thought they were as mad as him, too - until we got there. It's a troubling place. The sky can be cloudless blue, you're zipping along on a broad reach and then the wind gets up in an instant, changes direction and you're scrambling to get the sails down and avoid being hit on the head and 'going as a vegetable' as my mum would have said. Quiet anchorages? Forget it. Marinas heady with chip fat and beer, or perilously narrow calas when the wind gets up at 2am and you have to leave in a hurry. So there was always some incident or other that shook us out of British reserve and I dared to approach foreign strangers to ask for help.
That's a big deal. To actually say the thing you need, not skirt about, playing the guilt card or hoping telepathy will win the day. Ask. And you know what? The kindness of strangers is amazing. Even with no English, they would lead me to the place I needed for whatever and explain properly to the person who would help me what only my demotic French or Spanish and hand signals had suggested to them. So we stayed in the Med for five years.
I treasure this. When the world seems most bleak (and doesn't it just at the moment?) I think that people as a whole are basically generous and kind. And I've already asked friends and family to pledge for my book, which I'm really proud of. Now I dare to ask strangers for their support. Watch this space.
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