June 20 2009
“I look forward to our family sailing trips immensely. We keep our boat at Buckler’s Hard, on the enchanting Beaulieu river in the New Forest, and at the weekend we’ll often go for a spontaneous cruise. My son Dan, who’s a historian, spotted this boat in a magazine – she’s a 43ft, six-berth Seastream called Cerulean. We watched her being built at Falmouth Boatyard and it was great fun choosing bespoke halyards and other bits and bobs.
We’ll set off from home in Barnes early on Saturday morning. My wife, Ann MacMillan, who works for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, will come, and any of my six children. Matthieu lives in Paris, so he won’t be there very often, but Shane, Shuma, Dan, Rebecca and Kate, and some of the five grandchildren, will come along. They’ve all been sailing since they were born; there was never any choice, but, actually, they all enjoy it.
From Buckler’s Hard there are a couple of lovely day sails. One of my favourites is to cross the Solent from Hamble to the Isle of Wight, then sail right up the Medina river to the Folly Inn. You can tie up right outside, then we’ll tuck into steak or fish and chips – it’s no-frills, traditional pub food but marvellously fresh and tasty. Or we might go a bit further round the island to Osborne Bay. Still further east is Bembridge, which is sheltered, so if the weather’s nasty we’ll put in here and go to this little fish restaurant called Baywatch on the Beach. It’s quite basic and absolutely unpretentious, but the fish is sensational. The only problem with Bembridge is that, because of the tides, you’ll be there for 12 hours but still, I can’t think of a better place to hole up.
Another lovely trip is to sail westwards to the Jurassic Coast. We’ll leave Hamble on the ebbing tide, hoping the wind isn’t right in our faces, go past Hurst Castle and make for Studland Bay just beyond Poole. It’s a wonderful bay with a beautiful sandy beach. After we’ve anchored, we’ll row ashore and make for the Bankes Arms. Since Cerulean is very spacious and comfy, spending the night at anchor is never a problem.
Sailing back on a Sunday is usually easier, with the wind in our favour. Dan is a very experienced sailor – he’s a Yachtmaster, whereas I’m only a Day Skipper – and we’ve done lots of sailing together. We crossed the Atlantic, and we’ve been to Scotland, Norway and the Med.
Coming back up the Beaulieu river, there’s a wonderful feeling of nature all around you. It’s Lord Montague’s private estate and it’s absolutely teeming with birdlife. At Buckler’s Hard we’ll head for refreshment at The Master Builder’s, and if we need any repairs, Agamemnon Boatyard takes care of everything.
Occasionally I’ll pop over to Southampton, where the Jubilee Sailing Trust is based, to make a speech or help out in some way that I can. The trust’s two tall ships, Lord Nelson and Tenacious, are moored in the commercial harbour, getting ready for one of their voyages. This year they’re taking part in the Tall Ships Race to St Petersburg, which is very exciting. I’ve been on several trips and it’s wonderful to see these boats in action. Each able-bodied person on board is assigned a “buddy” who is disabled, and it’s amazing what they achieve; it’s about teamwork. A blind person can take the helm, as the compass is voice-automated, and wheelchair users can hoist the sails; in fact, there’s very little that a disabled person can’t do.
Back home on Sunday evening, I’ll catch up with the newspapers and then we’ll relax with a bit of television. We’re hooked on The Apprentice, and I like my history, a bit of Schama. I’m supposed to be semi-retired but I’m working on a book about the Napoleonic Wars, which is fascinating. Ann and I sometimes go to the Filmhouse in Richmond; recently, we watched a live relay of the Messiah from King’s College Cambridge; tremendous stuff.”