Having returned to Newport from Maine, I scarpered out of the country on a plane back to the UK. I was back to do some courses at Warsash Marine Academy, near Southampton, so after a very brief visit home to see the Father, I spent a morning attacking my old Motorbike with various implements of destruction until it started. I piled my bags on and set off down the A36, arriving a bit cold and sore at the house of my Couchsurfing hosts.
Chris and Anda were kind enough to let me, a complete stranger (and a fairly scruffy one at that) stay in their house (in an entire Annex, no less!) for all 10 weeks that I was studying there. They and their two children, Daniel and Elizabeth (and the bump in Anda’s belly that became little baby Baiba while I was staying) were fearlessly pleasant to me through all the time I was rushing around and fixing my bike and forgetting my studies and weeping into my textbooks. I hope I somewhat made up for my troublesome presence by helping out as much as I could around the house, and I really enjoyed cooking for the family a few times a week. When the Grandmother visited we had a worryingly nice time discussing recipes over endless cups of tea.
The courses were for an OOW (Officer of the watch for yachts up to 3000 tonnes) ticket, and they varied from the extremely mundane and wearisome to the baffling and complex, and some bits were even a little bit interesting. Much of it is irrelevant for the boats that I work on, but I plodded through, and (probably because of how much it had cost me) I studied harder than I ever have before.
At the weekends, though, I would put the books away, leather myself up, crank up my bike, and belt around the New Forest or, more often than not, up to Bristol hang out with the lovely delinquents that I call my friends.
After the final nerve-racking spoken examination (which I passed, thank god, probably thanks to my brand new suit and tie), I went with some of those same friends up to a tiny stone cottage in the middle of nowhere in Welsh Wales for a weekend of tranquility… Hah! – Relaxing it certainly wasn’t, but the scenery was fantastic and the cottage was cold and dark and great; we walked up hills and played board games and made whisky sours and sung like idiots and I was happy not to think about vectors and navigational regulations for a few days.
By the time I had finished my courses and been to wonderful wales and back, Adix had sailed south to the Caribbean. To meet them in St.Maarten I flew via Ireland (2 hours), Spain (5 days in the Rio Guadiana), Portugal (a few hours), Amsterdam (12 hours) and finally to St Maarten – four countries in twenty-four hours, and some serious jetlag.