My Father died on Boxing Day 2013, aged 99+, and was laid to rest in a woodland burial site in the Axe valley, near Sidmouth. Had he lived, we planned a centenary celebration cruise, sailing our 27 foot, 3 ton sloop ‘Vela Vega’ into Exmouth, thence by bus for his birthday at his residential home at Sidmouth.My brother and I decided to sail the West Country cruise as planned, but as a commemoration of father’s good life, well-lived. The sailing was much as expected, wind being like tomato sauce – always too much or not enough. We enjoyed swinging to the hook in Lulworth, borrowed mooring in Poole, and securing to floating pontoons in Weymouth and Dartmouth. Weymouth was absolutely jumping, pubs spilling into and across the quayside road. This being 2014, we were offered free Wi-Fi and electricity alongside, (‘but Sir, with a lap top you could get all your emails off Portland Bill’), both firmly rejected.
Memories and reminders of our father Victor, and his wife Marjorie and all the family, were a daily delight. His long life had been almost entirely within the West Country, even during the War when infantry Service in the DCLI morphed into radar technician, helping to catch enemy submarines surfacing at night to charge batteries. Since our grandfather was on the staff of the Western Morning News, the culture of the West Country had been his daily fare since his boyhood in Barnstaple, and then marriage to Marjorie (from Ilfracombe) in 1938.
We found these memories comforting but very reflective, and something of an extended farewell. Father had introduced us all to sailing in an elderly 14ft yacht’s tender, with sail layouts that are almost a memory now – balance lugsail improved to standing lugsail, and then to mast move aft, and gunter lug with jib. The little boat developed to be quite lively, and we enjoyed family sails up the Exe Estuary to Turf Lock on the Exeter Canal. Sailing in those days was barefoot and without lifejackets, but Father did check that we could all swim off the Exmouth beach. On our Vela Vega cruise we flew the Red Ensign he had given to the boat, and his watch is now the boat’s timepiece, so we combined the best of gentle sailing with powerful memories of our Father’s life and times.