2020 - What happened?!

Whilst the years often feel shorter than anticipated, it is not often the case that we can refer back to specific weeks (or even days) with a level of clarity that we can now. Like book marks in time, we all remember where we were when we watched The Prime Minister’s now infamous address to the nation and our feelings at his words that have etched themselves into our collective psyche: “You must now stay at home”. Doubtless too, we all recall Her Majesty’s reference to the late Dame Vera Lynn’s “We’ll meet again” in her unprecedented peace time address to the nation. At times it would have been easy to see those statements as painfully contradictory.

Whether we want or not, we all remember our first face mask, the first time we had to queue for a loaf of bread – the less said about loo rolls, the better – or the first social engagement we were forced to duck out of. These will, for at least 3 collective generations, remain shared experiences for the remainder of our lives. So when I was asked to write an article on ‘joining the club as a new member’ initially I wanted to try and sum up the year itself. How it made us feel, how we have adapted and what we all now expect of the months to come. It is the case, after all, that whatever my experience has been, it has taken place in a wider context caused by events much bigger than any one of us.

This approach would be folly. We have all had to forge our own coping mechanisms and we have all had a deeply individual experience of 2020. For any one person to try to summarise it (despite what the various media pundits may think) is to detract from the challenge we have all faced.

So in place of such an all encompassing analysis, may I offer simply my own experience of the mess that was 2020. Doubtless the highlight of the year for me has been stepping aboard Rumrunner, but lets not get ahead of ourselves…

“The Keatings”, such as they are, currently consist of a husband: Dan, a wife: Lynne and an 8kg ball of chaos in the shape of Daphne the Cockapoo. Technically we (humans) both hail from north of Hadrian’s wall… but you probably wouldn’t be able to tell with me as I sound a bit “generically English” – as someone once so flatteringly put it. However, Lynne makes up for this as even I struggle to understand her Glaswegian squeaks from time to time.

The pandemic has, in its own weird way, allowed us to make some very positive changes to our lives. After riding out the first lockdown in our tiny 2 bed flat in central Glasgow, we made the decision to up sticks and seek pastures new. But where? After a brief spell in the Royal Tank Regiment a decade ago, I had a vague familiarity of south Dorset and remembered it fondly. My suggestion was swiftly followed up with a visit in September to convince ‘the boss’ that this is the place for us (easily done it turns out - she liked Langhams). So at the end of October we found ourselves loading up the Golf to well above its maximum axle weight and bowling down the M6.

As Lynne will tell you, one of my personal priorities was to get out on the water asap. Admittedly I have done very little sailing in the past. A week in Croatia in 2019 saw me achieve my Dayskipper ticket, but as we all know, learning to drive doesn’t really happen until after you pass your test. I was also acutely aware of the fact that we were up-rooting ourselves and moving 470miles away from our closest family and the bulk of our friendship circle. So a desire to get sailing and not go mad with loneliness were both forefront in our minds. After a chat with a friend whose wife is a Weymouth native, Weymouth Sailing Club was discovered.

After an exchange of electronic mail with Mr Jones (of Membership Secretary fame) we signed up and headed for the club house to watch the rugby. Whilst the warm welcome and the ever present Dorset hospitality were never in doubt, I must confess to a certain level of cynicism with regards the actual sailing – surely no one would allow a novice aboard their pride enjoy so easily? Within less than an hour I would find this worry to also be folly. Lynne would later compare my reaction to the offer of a space on Rumrunner, to that of a child being given the keys to Disneyland.

Fast forward a whole 48 hours. Lockdown – the sequel. So passes a month of staring at the idiot box, superfluous dog walks (I’d wager I know Nothe park better than most locals by now) too many zoom calls and far too may G&Ts. By the time the 4th of December came around, we had climbed every wall in the house, twice.

When the harbour was once again cleared for action, Steve and I took Rumrunner out for a clean and a bit of a shakedown. Despite my not remembering a halyard from a tiller; a cleat from a keel and steve’s insistence that it was ‘cold’ (11°C is BBQ weather where I come from!) those 40minutes of freedom were enough to clear the restlessness and dispel any doubts about our move from my mind. In the 4 weeks that have passed between then and the time of writing, I have participated in 2 races (although I am too busy trying not to fall overboard or tie myself up in a Jib sheet that I cant admit to following the competition particularly closely yet), manned the clip board on Viking and, perhaps most importantly, joined a boat crew. All firsts.

Whilst I believe humility to be one of the most valuable virtues, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to boast to those sat in sideways rain back north of the border. Through the magic of the iPhone and WhatsApp it has become easier than ever to capture and share the moments that would make others jealous! But what to choose? Perhaps the training run through the cruise ships with the spinnaker up (another first for me) under limitless blue skies and flanked by blindingly white cliffs? Or the close up video of 2 dolphins who decided we needed to be escorted around the bay during the penultimate race of the season? Maybe even the shots of my feet up in the cockpit, tinny in hand after a ‘tough day’ on the water? I went for all 3.

At my best guess, there are…. A lot of years of sailing experience aboard Rumrunner and I find myself lucky enough to be able to sit down, shut up and listen-in to it. It has also been a well earned break from the monotony of the last 9 months or so. Given my background, being a member of a crew, in concept, is not new to me and I can spot the difference between cohesion & obedience, enthusiasm & indifference and quiet competence & intense confidence. Those characteristics don’t display themselves any differently whether you are on a boat, a tank, a boardroom... or on a dance floor. The mixture of care for one’s crew mates and expectation of them is key to success. Trust is borne of delivery when it’s expected and understanding when it’s needed. And what I see at the marina on Sunday mornings makes me immensely excited about what lies ahead for me and us. As a club we have all wanted to deliver successful races, but we have all had to understand when this has not been possible or how to do it safely when it is.

2020 will soon be behind us and its challenges won’t disappear when the clock chimes just after 23:59 on the 31st of December… but it would have been all too easy too fall into despair when it has felt like 1 step forward & 1 step back; to have fallen pray to the social-media fuelled fear or to have bought 200 loo rolls in one shop. WSC shows how it should be done. We have delivered when it counted and done so the right way: safely, enthusiastically and together.

For now let me part by saying:

Well done and thanks to everyone for a great final few weeks of the (my first) season.

Thanks to Steve, Stuart, Phil and Josie for putting up with me so far.

Thanks to everyone who pulled a pint, drove a RIB, manned a stop watch or dished out hand sanitiser when needed. The club is a crew in itself. Long may it continue to act so.

See you all soon.


Submitted on 29th December 2020