Safe in the Harbour

May 10, 2011   //   by Steve Wooding   //   A Slice of Lemon, Articles  //  No Comments

(1274 words – approx 7-11 mins to read)

We spoke last time about being open enough and brave enough to entertain the idea of worlds different to our own, so I thought I’d tell you a story that I wrote a while back for a client that seemed to be appropriate

Gill and Jane were two very successful women. They met for the first time at the marina, where they had each recently bought themselves a magnificent boat. They were moored near each other, so greeted each other and commented politely on each other’s craft before exploring their own.

Almost every weekend during the following spring and summer they could be seen driving from their homes in the city down to the marina. Gill often invited her friends and acquaintances to her boat and held lavish and somewhat noisy weekend parties on the decks which lasted long into the night and were obviously enjoyed by all. Jane, however, despite starting her spring like that, by mid-summer was frequently setting off out of the harbour into the open sea with just one or two other people, sometimes not returning until late in the evening, and occasionally even the following day.

As the seasons passed and summer came round again, Gill’s parties had became less and less frequent. Her boat still looked as good as the day she’d bought it though, shiny and new, and she was still as proud of it as she was on the day she got it. Party or not though, she was still there almost every weekend, enjoying and admiring her boat.

Jane’s vessel, however, was now showing definite signs of wear and tear, needing to be checked and occasionally repaired after a rough day on the ocean, though she always left it neat and clean and tidy. And she seemed to have a growing number of people with her on her weekend trips, some of whom looked suspiciously very like those who used to attend Gill’s earlier parties.

The next summer was hot and dry. One particularly scorching day a fire somehow broke out in one of the storage sheds and as the flames spread and raced along the wooden quay, boat owners who were there ran to their vessels and piloted them out into the deeper waters nearer the harbour mouth, a safe distance from the flames. Other boats weren’t so lucky as their owners weren’t there that weekend, and before long the flames licked up their mooring ropes and across the decks.

Gill and Jane had arrived only minutes before and, running for their craft, reached them ahead of the spreading inferno. Gill began to struggle with the mooring ropes that had remained tied and unchecked since she’d bought the boat so long ago. Jane, however, deftly untied each rope almost without thinking and her boat was underway and moving away from the quay in what seemed like only a matter of seconds. She turned to see her neighbour struggling and watched as the flames ran up one of the ropes and began to spread across the deck whilst Gill struggled with another rope further along.

Jane called out to warn her, but the sounds of the roaring, crackling flames, the exploding fuel tanks and canisters, the shouts of other people rushing with hoses, pumps and buckets, and the drone of sirens from approaching fire engines drowned out her voice. So she edged her boat around and steered nearer to her neighbour’s. Eventually, and not a moment too soon, Gill felt the heat of the flames licking at her heels and, realising that there was no more she could do, she jumped over the side into the cold water and swam to Jane’s boat. A slightly calloused hand took hers with a deceptively firm grip and she was heaved out of the water and onto deck as she turned to watch her boat yield to the fire.

Later, back on land and wrapped in a warm blanket, Gill turned to her rescuer, pushing her wet hair from her face. After expressing her gratitude at Jane’s timely and expert rescue, she said “You know, I really thought I would keep my boat safe and new if I never left the marina. I thought that it would be great to own a boat and come here every weekend to enjoy and admire it and party with my friends. And every weekend I’ve watched you sail out into the open sea and return many hours later with decks and windows dirty and sprayed, sometimes with your clothes wringing wet but always with a look of achievement on your face. Your boat is worn and needs cleaning and repairing often while mine is… well, was… as good as the day I bought it. Yet I’m growing bored with my weekends and parties and I think my guests have grown bored with them too. But you seem to gather more and more people on your trips and all return with many tales – I’ve overheard them in the clubhouse. Why?”

Jane thought for a moment, and then spoke in a soft tone, “Like you, I guess I bought a boat as a bit of a status symbol, to show off to my friends and to remind me how successful and happy I thought I’d become. But within a few weeks I began to realise that the harbour, though it was cosy and pretty, wasn’t what my boat was designed for. I realised I could – no, I should – be doing so much more with it, so I decided I should learn about the sea and learn to sail and see more than the harbour and local town. Those friends you first saw me sailing with were actually my instructors!

At first I didn’t want to leave the safety of the harbour either because I didn’t know what was out there and because of that, I was afraid. With time, and the patience of my instructors, I learned how to read the sea and sky, how to pilot my vessel and how to enjoy wind and wave, sun and rain, calm and storm.

I know that the harbour is always there when I need to return home to rest and to repair my ship and tell my stories to those who ask, but the times when I test myself and expand my knowledge and limits, the times when I feel like I’m really alive and the times when my stories actually happen – they’re all out there. And now I teach others to do the same.”

By the following spring the repairs to the harbour had been completed and the marina facilities improved. The fire was fast becoming a distant memory, and the ships that were moored again, many replaced, bobbed gently in the clear blue waters. Each weekend Gill and Jane could still be seen driving from their homes in the city down to the marina. Only now both their boats show signs of wear and tear and occasionally need checking and repairing after a rough day on the ocean, though they are always made neat and clean and tidy at the end of each voyage. And both have growing numbers of people with them on their weekend trips…

We rest here while we can,
But we hear the ocean calling in our dreams.
And we know by the morning,
The wind will fill our sails to test the seams.
The calm is on the water
And part of us would linger by the shore.
For ships are safe in harbour,
But that’s not what ships are for.

[Song “Ships” by Tom Kimmel & Michael Lille]

Listen on YouTube here:

Until next time,


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