July 15 2011
David “Slim” Stewart was well off, middle-aged and a bit chubby. He loved Greek food and mucking about on his boat and he devoted his summer holiday to those two pastimes.
Every August he would rent a villa at Kassiopi, on the north-east coast of Corfu, where the green hills descend into a series of bays. After a leisurely breakfast, he would spend the morning swimming from his white fibreglass Boston Whaler boat before heading for lunch at a waterside taverna in one of the many unspoilt coves. This year, however, after an unexpected windfall from his shares, he traded in his old tub for a flash and sporty speedboat with a 220hp engine. It was a mistake. He should have stuck to the Whaler…
The Boston Whaler is the Land Rover of boats. It is unflashy, ungainly and unsinkable. When the original liquid foam and fibreglass 13ft vessel made its début at the Boston Boat Show in 1958, stories of its indestructibility abounded.
It could hold 10 passengers without sinking and remain afloat after 1,000 rounds of automatic fire had been pumped into its hull. It had been driven up rocky rapids and floated over the Niagara Falls without suffering more than a scratch. In 1961 its inventor, Richard Fisher, sat in the stern of the boat while a diver cut it in half with a bucksaw. Fisher then used the stern to tow the bow back to the dock. After that it became known as the “unsinkable legend”. Since then, Whalers of varying sizes have become ubiquitous, universally used by those on the water, from Florida bone fishermen to Somali pirates, as well as in the Med by the well-heeled Brits.
James Hunter, for example, owned a 26ft Boston Whaler Outrage, a white moulded boat with a central steering console and an optional canvas canopy to shelter him from the sun. James, a Hampshire neighbour of Slim, also spent August in Corfu with a couple of other Boston Whaler Brits whom he had got to know over the years. Like Slim, these owners spent their holidays swimming off their Outrages, boats that could go almost anywhere, and searching out coastal tavernas for leisurely lunches.
It was at Taverna Agni, a restaurant popular among the British contingent and where Nat Rothschild famously entertained Peter Mandelson and George Osborne in 2008, that James bumped into Slim at the beginning of the holiday. Slim had arrived in his ritzy skiff and was comparing it to James’s staid “waterborne Land Rover”. As the two men tucked into a selection of mezze and shared a couple of aluminium pitchers of Kakotrygis wine, Slim swanked that his new boat was much faster and considerably more comfortable than the Whaler.
James disagreed and bet lunch on a race. Immediately opposite the taverna, one and a half miles across the Corfu Channel, were the hills of Albania and to their south was mainland Greece. It was agreed that the next day the two boats would race to the mainland, to Apolis Cafeteria at Igoumenitsa for its delicious grilled octopus and ouzo. The last one there would pay the bill.
It was a beautiful day, with just a touch of a breeze, when the two men from the shires set off. In the calm waters close to the coast Slim’s speedboat took the early lead, but then he moved into the middle of the sea and the going got choppy. At full throttle he found that driving his new boy’s toy was like riding a tin tray down the steps of the Monument and he was forced to slow down.
Soon James’s Boston Whaler bore down on him. Slim stood up to make a pithy remark when a wave hit the speedboat at an acute angle and he was thrown into the sea. The empty craft started to swing around in circles of eight, while Slim flailed around in the water, hoping he would not be killed by his rudderless windfall.
The subsequent rescue of the unfortunate Hampshire sailor, the futile search for his Panama hat and the eventual capture of the speedboat forced the race (and, indeed, lunch) to be abandoned. Instead, James towed the speedboat back to Taverna Agni – much to the amusement of the British Boston Whaler mafia, who lined the jetty to cheer a damp and miserable Slim home.