[ 12:35 Sunday 24 October 2021 – MV Orlando, Thames estuary ]
I’m sitting on the top deck of Orlando under a clear blue sky, swinging slowly in the wide open estuary, with the autumn sun on my face. To the north, the windswept expanse of Rainham Marshes fills the landscape behind a sweeping bend in the river, familiar to me from many explorations by foot and bike. Every few minutes a high speed train whistles past behind the marshes, sending clouds of birds rising from the wetlands.
To the south, the muddy bank is lined with waste processing plants and cement works, with the spire of Erith church peeking above piles of twisted metal upriver. The ghostly sentinels of Canary Wharf and the City shimmer on the distant western horizon, reminders of the great city at their feet.
We arrived yesterday evening in the final rays of sun and lowered our anchor rattling into the black sticky mud, following an exhilarating run down from St Katharine Docks, skimming over the water at twenty-five knots. With the engines spent, the only sound was the sucking and slapping of the fierce ebb tide pulling at the hull, drawing the anchor chain taut like a violin string and painting a fan of tangled water behind the stern.
We planned to go further, to the mouth of the Medway, and anchor in the desolate mudlands of Stangate Creek. But a fault with the fuel gauges left us uncertain what remained in the tanks, so we erred on the side of caution and stopped here.
Ever since buying the boat in the spring and bringing it down to London, I’ve been yearning to spend a night at anchor on the estuary, entirely off-grid. This first experiment has been a thrill. Alejandro and I cooked dinner on the gas hob: sauteed haddock loin, cavolo nero and mashed sweet potatoes with spring onions. We played cards in the saloon as the boat swung on the turning tide. It feels as though we’re cut off from the world, completely self-sufficient.
Half an hour after curling up in bed there was a scare when suddenly the boat began pitching and rolling crazily, sending cups and bottles crashing to the floor. I was awake in an instant and scrambled out to the deck expecting to find a giant ship passing. However the river was deserted and after a few minutes the waves subsided, their cause remaining a mystery. We went back to sleep and the night saw no further disturbances.
Alejandro and I spent the final week of September packing up the house in Port D’Es Canonge. With a heavy heart I took final swims from my favourite places. On the thirtieth, my final day as a legal visitor in Spain under the post-Brexit regulations, we flew to London. There was still no word from the Spanish Consulate regarding my visa, so we departed Mallorca with no idea when we’d be returning.
Despite my melancholy at leaving Mallorca, it’s been a pleasure spending October in Britain. The first week was a riot of meetings with The Trampery and catching up with friends. On the fourth a message finally arrived from the Spanish Consulate: my entrepreneur visa was granted! Alejandro and I cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate and we stared making plans for the winter in Mallorca.
From London I got the train to Cornwall and spent a week with my family. The weather was glorious. Each day was filled with coastal hikes and swims. One especially sublime morning my parents donned their wetsuits and joined me for a swim on the Roseland peninsular. Having been without a piano since selling mine in June, I greedily ploughed through JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations on Mum and Dad’s, greatly relieved to find my technique returning after a couple of days. Alejandro joined me in Cornwall and we spent a night with Anna and Adam. Then Mum organised a magnificent dinner for all of us, the first time we’d been together around a table since before the pandemic.
After Cornwall our next stop was a three-days electronic music festival in Sheffield, the first time I’d been in an enclosed space with so many people since March 2019. Once I’d got used to the crowd, I loved it. The artist roster was superb and I’ve missed dancing like crazy. From Sheffield we returned to London, where we remain until flying back to Mallorca on the fourth of November.
This month has been our first extended period living on board Orlando together. Ever since we decided to get a boat as our London base, it’s been a bit of a gamble how we’d find it in practice. Would we start feeling claustrophobic after a few days? Would it be unbearably cold in the winter?
To my relief we both love it, to the point where we could probably live aboard indefinitely. There’s enough space for the two of us to potter around doing our own stuff without tripping over each other. Whenever the sun is shining I take my laptop up to the flybridge and work there. On frosty nights the hot air system keeps the cabin toasty.
There’s something about the boat’s constant gentle movements as it shifts on its mooring that I find particularly conducive to peaceful sleep. I love being tucked up in bed when the rain is pattering on the foredeck above our heads. We’re still getting used to being so centrally located in London. Museums and galleries that were an hour’s travel from Hackney Wick are now within walking distance. Meanwhile I’ve bought a little folding bike so I can zip back and forth to meetings.
On the fourteenth of September I celebrated my fiftieth birthday with Alejandro in the town of Soller, on the north coast of Mallorca. I feel nothing but gratitude for the life I’ve been granted.
: c :