The Harding Family

But how do the Harding family school when at sea? Two children, Emily 11 and Andrew 8. Lessons and study group in the morning. Toys are a problem. Milly wanted a pony. You just don't keep a pony on a forty-two foot yawl, so she settled for a toy with flowing mane and tail. Or a train set come to that, so Andrew settled for an '0' gauge model American Pacific loco. Milly will do 11-plus early next year. The Hardings have an arrangement. They will spend Christmas in Madeira before sailing home.

"When we get home and settled we will have a pony if she's still interested. We had this pony thing going into St Lucia where they have great pony riding. We were stopped by this police boat and some guys from the Windward Islands Banana Growers Association. They wanted to know if we had bananas on board. I mean, this was dead serious! I mean dead serious - like we were running narcotics or something! But there's a disease that kills bananas and it was spreading through the Group. And they looked around poor old Sweetpea in case we had bananas stashed away, and we had! So they made us promise to get rid before we docked. So we had bananas and custard while we lay off St Lucia, then we dumped the rest over the side."

The children were interesting. They moved around topside with impressive competence. Below there were books, educational maps pinned to walls. "They're called bulkheads," Andrew corrected me.

"And you're supposed to be a sailing man, my man!"

"Forgot myself, Ducky-puss. Wrong word in the wrong place. What's it called - that sort of thing?"



"Misnomer?" suggested Emily.

"Dead right. Talking of misnomers: What's orange and sounds like a parrot?"

Milly thought hard. "I don't think I know."

There was something about this child, a sort of serenity, a maturity that was almost scary. Roger Harding was quite certain that Milly got it from her mother - "who's a real brain box."

"Rubbish!" her voice from the cabin portside.

"Well, she does silly things but she tries to think things through - "

"That sounds more like me!" the voice continued. "The answer is... Come on, Milly!"

On a small boat even stage whispers augment to normal volume. Privacy is difficult to achieve. They even looked alike, Milly and her mum.

"Thinking things through told me they didn't like women in the city. They have this way of pulling up the drawbridge when you get too close... C'mon Millikins!"

"Sorry, can't handle it."

"A carrot!"

Sweetpea was lifted out and cradled for repairs to her rudder. Roger stayed on board.

We put mother and kids into sparkling Paloma Beach 2.

"It doesn't move!" Andrew informed me, with no surprise, only satisfaction.

"Tell me if it does. It means we're having an earthquake!"

"Real beds!"

"More room to roll about. Mind you don't fall out."

"My bunk hole is my library. All my best books are at the bottom. Some times they get damp, so I don't have books with pictures in, 'cos pictures stick."

Lizzie and Glenys were in the kitchen talking spoons. This particular apartment has an inventory that includes soup-spoons and soup dishes. They intrigued Emily.

"We always have ours in mugs."

"Here you will find a degree of sophistication seldom found in small boats."

"I bet you haven't got a dinghy."

"I hope we shall never need one."

"We can fill ours with water and bath in it."

Milly, slightly shocked, "Andrew! Behave!"

"Funny," Lizzie said to me later, "they have this habit of holding onto things. Looks strange."

There was too much to-ing and fro-ing. Andrew went to stay with his dad. Dad brought him back. They didn't want children wandering round the repair yard. Their comfortable apartment turned into a torment of distraction. Both children left the apartment and went to sit on the wall overlooking the repair yard. Obviously the family hated being split. Glenys came to our door in tears. Lizzie dealt with it privately. I kept out of the way.

Halfway through the second week we considered moving them, for Paloma Beach is at one end of the beach with the repair yard right at the opposite end of the village, a good mile and a half, whereas Eucaliptus complex has Les and Lynn Forman with a bunch of apartments that almost overlook the repair yard from the top of Cardiac Hill.

But there was nothing available at Eucaliptus So we couldn't move them. We would have lost part of the business, but what the hell, they were very interesting people in a wrenching sort of way.

"Whales woke me up. I wondered what the noise was. Then I knew it was a conversation. There was this little teeny whistle. It was a baby or a lady whale. Mum and Dad were listening too. They were talking in whispers like they do at Christmas. They must have been underneath somewhere. It was nice. I had my ear on the pillow."

"Not many children have heard whales talking."

"Andy didn't hear it. He was fast asleep. Hoppy heard them, his ears twitched. I never saw a flying fish though, but I did catch a fish. I put it back in the water. I still want a pony when we get home. We did horse riding in St Lucia. Andy fell off. Serve him right for hiding Hoppy. Took me all morning. I found him in the sail locker, his ears all wet and stinky."

"Tell me more about the whales. I've never heard whales talking."

"Just talking. There was one a long way away."

"Could you understand what they were saying?"

"No, that's silly! How can they understand English?"

Simple logic for a child of 11. Andy is more interested in aeroplanes - "Aren't you Andy?"

"Like bombers best"

Andrew fights for indulgence, nudging Emily for attention as if parts of him are missing out. Emily expects indulgence, receiving what is her due, passing on part of her windfall to Andrew - "He was a great help, Dad", when she washed the cockpit after the repair gang had finished. There seems to be no room for separation. Lizzie is of the opinion that their lives will be difficult later on. "Strange, but I get an odd feeling that Emily is an older woman in disguise. Hope nobody cuts their string."

Our two families, Lizzie's and mine, are held together by the same sort of string, but of much greater length. Sometimes I get the feeling that with my lot the other end is almost out of sight, whereas Lizzie only needs to jerk the line to bring hers in.

The Hardings left sooner than expected. Sweetpea was back in the water after three weeks. "We're shaping for Madeira and Finisterre. Canaries Net tells us we've got a force four North West and we should take advantage before this depression comes up and throws the weather pattern all to cock. With luck we'll make Madeira for Christmas. Don't fancy Finisterre this time of year."

We wished them a calm sea and a prosperous voyage - and a happy New Year. Sweetpea leaned away on a force three breeze and then they were gone.

"They looked but didn't wave much," said Lizzie.

"Well, they did, sort of, like a half salute. A nominal wave. More like good riddance than good bye. They didn't like us very much but they were stuck with us."

"I think it would horrify me. I mean, there's no privacy. And how do you run a study group? You need a group, dammit!"

"I found those kids scary."

"I think they found us scary. I mean, they just sat. Most kids would lark about, fidget, play hide and seek, hopscotch. I got the story of the whales too. Actually, some time back, my man, you did think about buying a boat."

"I'm glad I didn't, my petal."

"Why don't you paint a few boats? You love boats. Ropes and stuff?"

"Why not? Nelson's attack on Tenerife, where he lost an arm. I shall write it up one day."

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