Nikon D3, Photo courtesy of James Taylor
People who live on classic boats are always remarkable, none more so than Tom and Natalia who live on a 1929 Hilyard. in Minorca. Tom saved the boat from a chainsaw massacre and has lived aboard ever since, he is a very talented boat builder and has a great eye for detail. Natalia is a fantastic artist who is happiest chipping away at huge pieces of stone or wood. They now have a daughter called Pola who is not yet three years old but is just as unique as her parents. They all live together on the boat in perfect, though simple harmony.
The anchorage just inside the entrance at Mahon, in Minorca, is called Coward’s Cove by the locals. Nelson said that were two good anchorages in the Med: Mahon and August. It’s a beautiful spot and a wonderful place for a kid to grow up. The evenings are amazing, the setting sun paints everything red and you can see kestrels hovering overhead searching for their last meal of the day. It’s so quiet. That is unless some twit in a power boat has his generator running.
On a recent visit we were sitting in their cockpit drinking coffee when an English yacht drew up and proceeded to confidently anchor right on top of us. They really were close. Natalia asked very politely if they would move but they were quite rude and basically said that they felt that they were OK and that was all that mattered. We began discussing the art of anchoring. How so many people have such a hard time with this. We also discussed what was too close. Tom smiled cheekily and asked Pola to come on deck with the digestives. Her pretty face soon appeared in the companion way and she confidently clambered onto the deck.
Then without any prompting she proceeded to throw the biscuits with surprising accuracy into the offending boat’s cockpit. To say that the occupants were surprised to see biscuits falling from the sky would be an understatement, then when they saw the culprit they were even more shocked. Image their surprise when with perfect timing, Pola simply said ‘You’re too close’. They were completely at a loss. Tom completed the act with a very subtle, ‘Ah hem’. They got the message and left. It was brilliant.
After that performance I was determined that the world should know about this nautical gem. For many years I was aware that ‘A biscuit toss’ was sometimes used to measure a very close distance at sea. Patrick O Brian often uses it in his excellent books. No doubt the ship’s biscuit in question would have been pretty big and heavy and no doubt could be tossed a fair distance. The modern equivalent is surely the Digestive. Classic, very British and likely to be aboard. We considered other options, such as rich tea or shortbread biscuits but the Rich teas are too light and the shortbread are never uniform sizes. The digestive on the other hand is a reasonable weight, they are not too expensive, fit nicely in the hand and toss well.
So the next time you have someone anchored too close and they won’t move, try the biscuit toss yourself, it’s a very clear and indisputable demonstration of overtly close proximity. Keep a pack aboard at all times, and if you are lucky enough not be anchored upon, you can always eat them!