The wind howls up the slipway, clinking through the sleeping masts of the sick and dying vessels, bringing with it the defining scent of my childhood summers: salt, mud and a hint of sewage. The yard – like its inhabitants – is unkempt, but highly functional. By day, tattoos quiver on weather-beaten hides all round the yard, under the strain of ropes, chocks and barrels. Faces more accustomed to snarling into the sea wind clasp frail rollies between their lips and mutter antique expletives as their gnarled 60 year-old hands take on tasks that would challenge men four decades their junior. There is no shortage of laughter between the men, but it is not given away – especially when the job might cost them fingers if they turn their head for half a second.
It’s all about mud down here. Without wellies, you’re only half a man, a teaboy, a landlubber. No-one minds if you don’t have a boat, but if you don’t get stuck in the mud at some point, you’re just not one of the gang. If you fall over in it, extra kudos is given, depending on your reaction. A decent bloody wound is valuable currency, especially if you’ve sustained it helping someone else out with their boat. Once again though, one must be careful not to undermine such currency with inappropriate reaction. Whilst moving a trimaran downriver one rainy Saturday, I made the mistake of mentioning Tetanus after slicing my hand open. Conversation trailed off pretty quickly in the dinghy on our way back to shore, until Goz struck up a shanty to save me the social embarrassment. The sheer profusion of blood from the wound on to my boots and a hearty rendition of “Leave Her, Johnny” was enough to absolve me from my sin until we reached the boat yard again, whereupon I slinked off to apply Germolene from my first-aid kit while no-one was looking.