My friend Katie kindly offered to look after the girls one evening so Julian and I could go out. I imagined a little moonlit table in a plaza, tapas, a bottle of chilled local wine. We’d relax, make plans, enjoy each other’s company. I put on a light summer dress and Julian his best shirt. We walked hand-in-hand up the pontoon, looking forward to the evening ahead. As we walked through the marina gate, we met the middle-aged English couple from the neighbouring pontoon coming in.
They had been less than friendly towards us earlier, so I was surprised when they now decided to engage us in conversation. Earlier in the day, as I’d been hanging towels to dry on the guard rails, I overheard a conversation between them and the local Garda Civil that could have been mistaken for a Little Britain comedy sketch. The two policemen were visiting each yacht to check passports and boats’ papers.
At our neighbour’s boat, I heard one policeman, speaking Spanish-accented English, ask, ‘Your boat insurance papers, please’. The skipper, sitting on his deck replied, in heavily-English-accented Spanish, ‘No hablo Español’. The policeman repeated the question, the skipper repeated the answer. Then he called to his wife. ‘Your boat insurance papers, please’, the policeman said, once again in English, to Her Below Decks when she appeared in the cockpit. ‘He wants the boat insurance papers’, she told her husband. ‘Oh, the insurance papers’, said the skipper and he sent her back below to fetch them. I almost fell down the companionway in my eagerness to recount the incident to Julian and our guest, Katie.
And now, on our first evening out alone in months, this same couple had stopped us for a chat. Well, at least the skipper wanted to chat. Her Below Decks said next to nothing. He enquired as to our sailing plans…and then informed us that our choices were all wrong. We were choosing the wrong places at the wrong times. He informed us of the right places. He told us that they were sorely disappointed with this town. There was nothing going on, it had nothing of interest. I found this odd, considering they had arrived on the day of the town’s biggest festival, and we ourselves had enjoyed days of wonderful cafes, wonderful walks through the ancient town centre, a wonderful museum, wonderful beaches. Our only complaint was that it was too hot to go exploring the surrounding hills. And in every guide book we read, the town was noted as perhaps the most beautiful in the Rias. But we were WRONG. And the skipper told us why.
Still giving this couple the benefit of the doubt, we gave ourselves more rope to hang by when we informed them of our long-term dream of crossing the Atlantic and one day passing through the Panama Canal. Julian told them that we currently lack the finances to equip the boat with an autopilot or wind-vane steering system. The skipper was incredulous. How could we live in such primitive conditions? ‘You’ll pick up an auto steering system for less than £1000. If you don’t get it you’ll soon stop sailing altogether’. He went on to expertly inform us that our Wifi capabilities are rubbish (we know) and that we could get a decent system for ‘less than £1000’. ‘And you’re sailing with the sheets forward of the cockpit?’ he asked with a smirk. ‘You need to bring them back to the cockpit’, and then informed us how we should rig our sails for easier sailing. This was helpful advice, but given in such a condescending way that I wanted to punch him.
He then enquired about our fridge, and we made the fatal error of telling him that we live fridgeless when at anchor. He was beside himself with joy at the chance to tell us again what we were doing wrong. ‘You need a better array of solar panels. You’d get sorted for (you’ve guessed it) less than £1000. You need to change over to LED lighting’. He informed us that their saloon is lit by 19 LED lights. I imagined something akin to Las Vegas in there.
We have had nothing but positive experiences with Spanish officials – Garda Civil and customs officers – but the skipper told us we should be careful, he didn’t trust them. When we told him we’d cruised in Ireland a couple of years ago, he made some equally disparaging comments that started with ‘Well, knowing the Irish…’ That enamored me to him no end, I can tell you!
All those ‘less than one thousand pounds’ he was so eager for us to spend add up, and when, an hour later, Julian and I eventually escaped this know-it-all, we reflected on what we would do if we had £1000 to spare. A new dinghy maybe, so our feet don’t get wet every time we go the short distance to shore – a dinghy that’s more dinghy and less patches. New anchor chain maybe, to replace the rusty anchor chain we’ve currently got out. LED lights, refrigeration and high-tech communication system are way down our list of priorities.
Almost every day we meet sailors with years and years of experience who are generous with their advice, interesting to talk to, and who help us to develop our sailing skills and improve the way we do things. They give us advice about great places to visit and places to avoid. They are encouraging and inspiring. But this guy got our backs up so much with his know-it-all condescending attitude.
But when he told us he’d been cruising in Spain for the past fifteen years, I wondered how he’d managed to avoid learning enough Spanish even to understand a Spaniard speaking English! We eventually did find that little table in the moonlit plaza, with its tapas and chilled local wine. But I’m sure we did our date all wrong!