see:A Singular Captain
My chief mate, Helen, had been aboard over a year now and I had at last come to realise the occasional glaze in her eyes was not an ophthalmic condition. Cruising down the coast of South America we had many social events with other yachties, yacht club members and locals interested in our story. It was a great opportunity to practice our Spanish and hear their stories. The lubricant was usually beer or wine and occasionally gin or whisky.
I have been known to take a cool drink on a hot day but not since my foolish Navy days have I allowed it to get out of control. What puzzled me with Helen was that I never saw her drink to excess. After she’d had a couple of glasses of gin I usually had to take a firm grip of her arm and steer her in a straight line back towards home.
In Rio, where the hospitality was particular generous, she tripped on the gangway and broke her arm. I got her to hospital where they put her arm in plaster, which she wore for several weeks as we continued our voyage. It was a source of conversation in anchorages, especially after I had to repair it with fibreglass. I now began to see the glazed look while we were at sea, which had not happened before. She was a good sailor, a willing worker, good cook and not bad in bed but I was beginning to worry about her.
One day I went fossicking in the locker in the aft cabin – I was looking for the spare jib sheet or something – and what I found was half a dozen bottles of whisky. The light dawned. We had a showdown. To me it was a safety issue. I explained the danger she was putting herself in. Bodies fished out of the water after falling off boats fit two main categories: those with a high blood alcohol level and men with their flies open, pissing over the side instead of using the head. (I have to admit to this fault myself but I always pee to leeward.)
“You have to get it under control.” I told her. “It’s dangerous.”
She was contrite, even tearful, and I wondered what had happened to the calmly confident woman I had met in London. She had told me stories of her sailing experience but not much, I now realised, of her personal life. A little more delving brought mention of an abortion, and that was a sensitive topic. It was a topic way beyond my ken. I know what to do in the event of a grounding, dismasting, fire on board or a cyclone. I can even deal with Customs officials but I had no clue about abortion and didn’t want to know.
“So, where do we go from here?” I said. “You can’t sail away from it.”
She burst into tears. Magellan never had to deal with this kind of problem. He would just chop people’s heads off or cast them away among cannibals in foreign lands. Life was simpler back then.