Prologue: “Down Rover”
The love of sailing that courses through our veins had been cruelly quenched by the receding waters of Aldenham reservoir. Today that once familiar ardour would rise again, kindled by the loving embrace of our new friends at Rickmansworth Sailing Club. From dawn’s early call, the heavens wept tears of torrential rain as if to celebrate. Storm-force gusts bursting from a battleship-grey sky bellowed out their approval and the waves of Troy Lake caressed our boats as they wriggled once more from the beach’s grip.
Act One: “Dog rough”
As one, then two then four then six boats, piloted by our bravest cadets, ploughed out, kicking and leaping like wild mustangs, a tear of pride welled in my eye. In a scene reminiscent of the film “Rocky”, Ethan (11R1) was catapulted into the water for the fifth time but refused to “stay down”. Saam (11R2), his rig reefed to the size of a pocket handkerchief, took a deep breath and set sail for only the second time ever whilst Charlie (11H2) and Ari (11H1) powered towards the start line despite their boats having the directional consistency of a drunken homing pigeon.
Our initial goal of a series of six races was moderated down to four, then two, then one. As the blasting gusts wreaked havoc, the decision was made to award the win to any helm who could complete just one lap, an honour which went, much later, to Rahul (11S1). With the generous and brilliant Lt Chapman attending to the lesser details such as organising the cadets in the water, the tenacious and talented Mr Lunn concentrated on our primary goal; to take a thousand excellent photographs.
Act Two: “Dogged determination”
Meanwhile ashore, Lt Cdr Hardman was organising the boat compound, home to a jungle-like collection of flora, fauna, stinging things and abandoned craft. Armed with the endlessly joyful Acting SLt Willows, a dozen burly senior boys including George (U6M1), Finn (U6H2), Mackenzie (U6M1) and Alex (U6M2) and a van-full of industrial-strength ground-clearing equipment, a few subtle changes to the compound were set in motion.
Act Three: “Dog tired”
With the photographs secured and race finally completed, an early lunch was called. Social distancing required us to repair to the clubhouse and boat sheds in groups but the great warmth of the hospitality at Rickmansworth warmed our hearts whatever our location. The club’s own Paul Hills who had joined us for sailing, and ensured we all felt right at home. Despite having selflessly toiled in the rain as beachmasters all morning, Dr Chapman and RYA Instructor Daniel Loveless watched over us shepherd-like, making sure that everyone was warm, dry and happy. As the boys tucked into their rations, the great strength of camaraderie of the Habs RN CCF was much in evidence.
Act Four: “The dog days are over”
Round two of the sailing was a much gentler affair, the storm having given way to continuous rain, enabling all cadets to take to the water and stay upright. Henry (11M1) and Daniel (11S1) were amongst those who handled their boats with panache, but respect is due to all who smiled and laughed their way through the pouring rain.
All too soon it was time to call a halt. The weather was no impediment to our characterful cadets; by this time, Lt Cdr Hardman and his fantastic team had applied a “scorched earth” strategy to the compound, transforming it into something worthy of a feature on the popular television show “Gardeners’ World” with our own club equipment taking centre stage.
“Sir”, I ventured, “was your approach here to annex the compound, eject everything you did not like the look of, then to make the whole thing look absolutely perfect?" After thinking this through carefully, Lt Cdr Hardman nodded vigorously, his focused expression giving way to a beaming smile.
Epilogue: “You can teach an old dog new tricks”
The magic of a good field day never grows old. As our band of brothers and sisters danced homeward through the rain, I remembered again the nourishment one gains from spending time with truly decent and capable people. Each of us took home some memories of excitement and achievement to treasure. Bonds of friendship had been renewed once more, hearts and lungs had raced again, and, after a long silence, the air had echoed to the sound of singing, laughter and the occasional scream. The story of the Habs RN CCF continues – and there is life in the old dog yet.
Written by Lt Hall.