A year goes by in a flash, it seems like a lifetime but also like yesterday. This weekend, a year ago made me feel so content, a weekend for me, with my friends and my choice, it sounds so self centred doesn’t it. This weekend a year ago was my stag do, I like to think I’m not much of a look at me sort of guy but maybe writing this blog means I am, I don’t know.
I originally thought I would try and please everyone, the typical quad bikes and paintball affair with evening pub grub with best friends, friends other halves, the father and father in law of course. I was quite happy with my middle arrangement (Man Stag Mk1) inviting all the people I thought would enjoy it. This seemed fine until it came to people paying deposits and then people piped up with other suggestions, part opt-outs and reluctance of coughing up a deposit. A little disheartened I tried to compromise until I decided I needed to do, what I wanted to do (eeeekkkkk maybe I am more self centred then I thought).
Man stag Mk2 was conceived, I decided I needed to ask a handful of people to experience something different, part of my life and what made me tick, take them out of their comfort zone and show them something the majority of landlocked Midlands folk don’t experience on a usual Midlands folk day, weekend or year. To be honest it’s not something I’ve done since I was a young lad so taking myself out of my comfort zone a little and that’s being a crew on “my” very own yacht. I say “my” because I would have to charter it, in my head I owned this yacht for this weekend and nothing would change that. The yacht I wanted to charted was called Gemini, a Bavaria 37 from Costal Pursuits in Southampton, Gemini was based in Lymington a place I chose because I had visited many time before for it’s beauty and affiliation with the “yachtie” community, but really as it would be a nice place for us to eat food as we look out over the Solent among the other boats in the marina.
Gemini was rated for 8 people so this meant I had to choose 7 of my close friends to join me. In all honestly I think of myself as a bit of a loner, there are two people that will be friends of mine till the day that I die, these are Andy aka Bert and Dave. Dave I have known longer then any (bar family), we were paired in an English class at Highfields by Mrs Martin the notorious battleaxe in the school. I call her a battleaxe but in all honestly I had utmost respect for her along with Mr Milham our French teacher who unfairly picked up a nickname and was ridiculed daily for it. The very evening after this pairing I remember walking home from school with Dave (I usually caught the bus home to get to my multiple paper rounds on time) upon realising we had more alike like we had ever thought, we’ve been friends ever since. Andy I didn’t meet until a few years later when I had left school and met up outside his mothers house in Enville Road in Warstones, the haunt of the infamous Moran family from the TV series “Raised by Wolves”. There was a group of us 16 year olds on 50cc motorcycles who called themselves the “Moped Mafia” due to us taunting the local neighbourhoods with our wasp like bikes swarming around the roads. I’m not really sure how Andy and I actually became friends, but we did and I know if I left this world tomorrow he would look after my family without question, so much so I’ve asked him to be god parent to my young boy.
Obviously my brother Chris, my Best Man would have a bunk, however I had to share the forward cabin with him which was to be a mistake as you’ll find out. Nik another friend from school was asked, again I wanted to take him out of his comfort zone. Nik’s always been up for trying new things and having a couple of young boys I thought he may catch the bug and introduce his lads to the sport. A friend to us all, Kev came along, a landscape gardener who has a huge interest in quantum physics along with an interest of extra-terrestrial life which has led to many interesting drunken chats! Now I hear you say, surely they won’t let any Tom, Dick and Harry charter a yacht for the weekend and you’re right. Although I have sailed since I was a child I have no formal RYA qualifications, so luckily a friend of mine Jamie, well he’s actually the husband of one of my wife’s friend (but we seem to be on the same wave length) has worked in a Solent marina for years and has his Day Skipper certificate so agreed to be our skipper and keep us out of trouble. The last member of our crew is Bryn (another Day Skipper), my sister in laws other half, I don’t know any other person who has had more adventures then Bryn, who at about 5 years younger then us has experienced more then all of us put together. It seems nothing phases him, he’s rode motorcycles across continents, cycled through countries, sailed oceans and ran the London marathon, anything and everything is possible with Bryn.
Friday came, myself, my brother, Andy, Dave and Kev piled our kit high in my brothers car and after a stop for a “English breakfast” in the local café and a call into the local supermarket for provisions, made our way South towards a murky grey sky with the windscreen wipers working overtime. I called Coastal Pursuits to confirm we’re on our way, who couldn’t find our booking! After a bit of confusion they told us Gemini has a broken coupling and was out of action so we had to go to Saxon Wharf in Southampton to be put on an identical boat “Hope”. Although this would have scuppered our evening plans and other peoples travel arrangements we were happy to have a boat. We reached Saxon Wharf and found the office to be lead to our new home for the weekend “Hope” she was a lovely boat, tall and white and something I would never be able to own. When we stepped onto the boat we were greeted by 4 other people who were sitting in our saloon! Things got a little confusing when they had told us they had booked “Hope” for a crossing to Jersey, but it turns out “Gemini’s” coupling had been magically fixed and “Gemini” was a couple of pontoons down ready for their departure. Again happy to have a boat to stop on we didn’t make to much of a fuss of it.
As our skippers Jamie and Bryn had travel over after work we were allowed to make ourselves at home on the boat and sort out the handover the following morning. The weather didn’t really ease, slowly other crew members showed up, Nik followed by Jamie, Bryn to get to us much later in the evening. We picked our bunks and stowed our gear, filled the fridge and as in true stag do fashion opened a beer. Once settled we decided to head out for food, being told Ocean Village would be the best port of call we donned our waterproofs and went for a wander. Knowing we couldn’t go wrong we decided a Wetherspoons would be best and The Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis was our venue for the evening. We knew we had a long day on the water the next day so drinking was limited once we had full stomachs. Bryn turned up just as we were heading back to the boat with a whole load of kit and even a tent! It turns out on the Sunday morning he would be leaving us to meet some other friends, driving over to Alps and climbing Mont Blanc the following week! I told you he’s an adventurer.
We woke early, myself much more earlier due to my older sibling’s incredibly and persisting snoring, ready to set sail. Wanting to get on the water as fast as possible we decided we would cook some breakfast as we sailed down the River Itchen into Southampton Water. What we had only realised driving down was that the Americas Cup was racing that weekend, we had managed to book a boat on the weekend that the most advanced hydro foiling racing catamarans piloted by Sir Ben Ainslie, a childhood hero of mine would be racing in the same water we would be sailing. Because of this we knew we wanted to sail down to Portsmouth to see this magnificent event with our own eyes, having the best seats in the house. upon our arrival we were greeted by hundreds of boats wanting to get the same “best seats”. This became interesting to say the least as both Jamie and Bryn took the helm to dodge the mass of boats trying to squeeze towards the front to see more of the action. We stayed for an hour or so but the skippers intensely keeping watch, grew tired and I more fearful I wouldn’t see the return of my £1000 deposit decided we should motor out and beat our way up to Cowes, where I had pre booked a berth for our floating home. It was a good job as there were boats begging for a spot only be sent up river to anchor for the night.
Once we were along side, another yacht was rafted next to us and we each got showered and ready for some food. Saturday night was going to be the night we could eat well, have a good drink and enjoy the night. The sailing was for me, the drinking would be for them. Dave had lost his wallet which had to be on the boat because we had agreed all valuables should be kept below. This turned into an half hour long search in which we had failed to find Dave’s beloved leather money holder, I agreed to loan Dave some money for the evening with a promise we’ll turn the boat upside down on our return. It turns out the wallet was on the cabin sole but whether it had been there all along or if it was a practical joke I have no idea. I had booked a table in the Anchor Inn, a beautiful old pub which you could tell had a huge amount of sailing heritage. I had found out afterwards The Anchor had been the host to another Stag do involving Prince William and Harry a few years previous. The food here was what I would call proper pub grub, done well with a fantastic atmosphere, people watching the sailing on the TV from earlier on in the day, not like the Wetherspoons the night before which although served purpose could never compete. Once fed and watered I managed to sneak off to the bar to settle the bill unknown to the others. They had all paid a good amount and chipped in to charted the boat for this weekend away for me, so the very least I could do was to buy them their meal to say thank you. It turned out they had repaid my treat and hidden some cash in my bag when we got back to the boat, which I didn’t find till I got home. The Anchor was filling up and we wanted to see what other drinking establishments we could find in Cowes which lead us to a rum bar further along the street. A couple of drink later and a rowdy stag and hen do deciding rum was the drink of choice we decided to move on. If I was honest the days sailing the lack of sleep from my brothers snoring, the full belly and alcohol had taken it’s toll on me and I just wanted to return to the boat. Some of the other was tempted in stopping out but decided a few drink on the boat would be the best choice.
The night drew on and conversation turned into politics, Jamie who runs his own business and rarely gets time off decided to enjoy the clear skies in the cockpit, I decided to join his leaving the other to put the world to rights. It was just how I had imagined it would be, seeing the stars twinkle on a clear, dark sky, lights reflecting off the rippling water and a warm freshness to the air. A feeling of tranquillity, contentment and a fondness towards the people I was sharing this experience with flooded over me, at that point I knew I had made the right decision to go with Stag Mk2. With it getting late and the politics getting more heated I decided it was time for me to head to bed hoping the others would follow, which they duly did. Having a fair few drink inside me I managed to sleep despite my brothers snoring, for a few hours at least. In the early morning I put on some warm layers and quietly headed through the saloon and up the companion way to slam my head onto the hatch I had forgotten to slide back, so I could try and get some peaceful sleep in the cockpit. Luckily the others didn’t stir and I curled up on in the seating and got a few more winks. When light came I spent a few hours quietly watching life on the river from the comfort of a marina berth. Later on that morning the weather worsened, we decided a short hop back to the mainland with a sail up the Beaulieu River before returning the boat to it’s home berth was the best option for our last day. It’s funny how the previous day everyone wanted to helm in the sun, but with grey skies and cold rain people decided down below was the nicer place to be. Jamie unfortunately with the local knowledge drew the short straw and helmed most of the way back, I felt bad, so sat under the spray hood to keep him company, helming when he was handed his bacon sandwich or a cup of tea. We did have the boat for another evening if we wished, but people had to get home and ready for work the next day so we thought it best to hand “Hope” back so after slipping into Saxon Wharf we tied to the pontoon, cleared our kit and handed her back as clean as she was given to us.
I have visited the New Forest many times with my wife to see Sarah and Jamie and they had shown us a hidden gem, The Royal Oak in Fritham, a local secret which I’m reluctantly letting slip. They do the best ploughman’s lunch and the inspiration for our own wedding breakfast a month or so later. We usually cycle there so we earn our ploughman’s and a pint of cider, but today we would have to drive, and drive fast to get there in time. Luckily we got there with ten minutes to spare, but with the rain still pouring everyone was inside which meant we were spread around the pub sharing tables with others and making new conversations with new people. A great way to end this fantastic weekend.
Maybe one day I’ll tell you about the “Lady Stag”…..