Hello, sailor ... or goodbye?

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The Independent Online
As British adventurers go, Robert Turnbull is not in the premier league. His solo boating trip up the south coast to Scotland casts no shadow over the America's Cup. It isn't even glamorous: Marseilles to Genoa has, for example, a romantic feel somewhat lacking in a waterlogged limp to Dundee. And Mr Turnbull is not the first sailor to make the journey, not even the hundredth. His chief distinction is that he is probably the most eccentric.

Mr Turnbull is to sailing what Frank Spencer was to home maintenance and his fellow Dundonian William McGonagall was to poetry. Much as he tries, everything seems to go wrong. Since setting sail from Hastings five weeks ago in the Curlew, his 18ft yacht, he has had to be rescued seven times. Lifeboat crews are tired of plying the waves in search of a sailor who seems not to know his fore from his aft. But they have no power to confine Captain Catastrophe to port. And they don't know where the hapless seafarer will founder next before reaching McGonagall's "beautiful railway bridge of the Silv'ry Tay". So coastguards the length and breadth of Britain are on alert for fresh disaster. Meanwhile, the lure of the sea pulls irresistibly on Mr Turnbull's sloop as he prepares to set sail once more from Bridlington.

In short, Mr Turnbull is becoming a problem. He has already cost the emergency services at least pounds 10,000. The bill is becoming so inflated that even the lovers of British eccentricity must wonder whether we can afford to underwrite such an expensive mode of travel. After all, a bus trip from Bridlington to Dundee (change at Scarborough and Middlesbrough) would cost him a mere pounds 31.65, provided he didn't go on a Friday.

So with tears in our eyes and sneaking admiration for Mr Turnbull's determination, we are consulting you, Britain's taxpayers, about how he should be treated. Your views will be passed to the coastguard. Is it perhaps time to buy Mr Turnbull a bus ticket and then, like Nelson, place the telescope to the blind eye? Should he be left on the next sandbank? Write or fax to us on 0171-293 2056 your views on the question: should the state keep bailing Mr Turnbull out?

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