'Joan gave a ghastly smile before pushing the helm further'

In this extract from The Art of Coarse Sailing, Michael Green's classic account of a disastrous sailing holiday on the Norfolk Broads, the narrator Mike, crewing the boat Merryweather with his friend Beaver, is monitoring the progress of holiday companions Joan, Dennis and Arthur on another yacht, Quiet Dawn...

We sailed without any startling incident for about an hour in a fair breeze, but about two o'clock signs of disturbance were noticed on board Quiet Dawn. Voices were raised in the well, Joan's being prominent. Beaver sailed as close as possible so we could spy on them and we heard Joan saying: "No, I won't cook you any lunch. I spend all my time kneeling on this wretched floor with Dennis's stinking feet treading all over me while you two have all the fun. You can cook the lunch and I'll sail the boat."

Dennis and Arthur regarded her rather as the beadle must have regarded Oliver Twist when he asked for more.

"Sail the boat?" exclaimed Dennis. "You must be joking, girl. Now get on and put that spaghetti on to boil. We're hungry."

"Ah," added Arthur. "I haven't eaten for two hours."

"No," said Joan firmly. "You put on your own rotten spaghetti and I hope it chokes you."

Dennis tried wheedling. "But, Joan," he said, "you don't know how to sail the boat."

"Then you teach me. And I must say that from what I've seen of Mike I could sail as well as him" (that was most unfair).

The argument went on for about ten minutes, during which their sailing suffered and we drew ahead. However, we were delayed by a gentleman in what appeared to be a floating saloon bar who drove us into the reeds and Quiet Dawn hove into view round the bend. At first I thought she was on fire. A dense cloud of white smoke covered the well and a voice was calling out oaths and curses. I then realised the smoke was steam coming from a pot of boiling water in the cooking locker. Arthur was on the deck tending the pot by abusing it, its contents and its mother in a loud voice. He had apparently burnt himself and had one hand stuck in his jacket like Napoleon.

Joan was steering.

The wind was on the beam so she couldn't really go wrong, and Dennis was holding the sheets and directing her, every so often putting his hand over his eyes as she headed for the bank or another boat.

Beaver slowed our progress so we could enjoy the scene. I'm glad he did so, for I saw a sight that will live long in the memory, even longer than my recollection of the vicar blowing up his church hall while working the effects for an amateur performance of Journey's End. As Quiet Dawn rounded the bend and the wind came from astern, Joan allowed her to gybe and the boom clouted Arthur across the cockpit as he was about to drain the water from the spaghetti.

The boiling water must have gone over Dennis's feet because he rose like a helicopter and hopped about the well. Arthur raised an anguished hand smothered in hot spaghetti and began wringing his hands to get rid of the stuff (a good deal of it flew across Joan's face, giving her an interesting appearance).

Quiet Dawn was approaching a boat moored by the bank in which four Sea Scouts were enjoying a meal. Joan put the helm over to clear them and put it the wrong way. As often happens with a novice, when she found she was pushing instead of pulling she merely pushed all the harder. Quiet Dawn turned neatly and headed for the Sea Scouts' boat with naval accuracy.

"Joan," shouted Harry. "Pull it the other way."

Joan turned and gave him a ghastly, hysterical smile, before pushing the helm even further. Dennis and Arthur were still wrapped up in their injuries and didn't even notice what was happening.

It was an odd sort of collision. Quiet Dawn's bowsprit went neatly through a port-hole on the Scouts' boat, almost as if it had been aimed there. There was a crunch, a tinkle, a chorus of surprised voices, and there she was, swinging gently with her bowsprit in the Scouts' cabin.

At least the collision shut up Dennis and Arthur for a moment. Joan sat in the stern staring at her handiwork and then burst into tears.

'The Art of Coarse Sailing' by Michael Green, illustrated by John Jensen, is published by Robson Press (pounds 6.99)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice