Alan sat at the navigation table, wondering what he should do. Absent mindedly he twirled a winch handle round and round like a football rattle. Suddenly it reminded him of his youth when his Dad took him to watch Leeds United play in some half remembered northern darby: guiltily he stopped.
Cleo came down the companion way to join Alan in the main cabin. “Time for a drink?” she asked.
He nodded and watched as Cleo mixed two G&Ts. He seemed loss for words, unsure what to say to his wife of 18 years.
In recent years he seemed to know her less and less. He had been distracted by his business which had taken all his time as it had grown and expanded until a major competitor decided it was cheaper to buy him out than battle over margins. That deal had taken time too, late nights with lawyers and accountants, then handling the hand-over and tying up those final loose ends.
This was meant to be his reward – and hers. After all that grind, after seeing the kids head off to university, to live the dream and sail off into the sunset. So he bought a yacht called My Fair Lady and talked her into leaving their plush Surrey home for the cramped quarters and hard slog of a double handed yacht.
“Do it for us” he had argued “Give it a chance – give us a chance. Be adventurous for once”.
It was probably the last little dig that had done it. He suspected she couldn’t face being considered less adventurous than him. He’d always felt a bit second rate to her and her family: they were all professionals, lawyers and academics, while his business – though successful – involved equipment hire to construction companies. They met with politicians and journalists, doers and makers, while he met with builders.
So here they now were, starting off on the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the ARC: three thousand miles of blue water with the warmth of the Caribbean ahead, and just each others company for the next three weeks.
“What are you doing down here?” she asked “Its lovely up on deck with the sun just about to set”.
What was he doing? Was he hiding from her? Frozen for a moment he then thought of something.
“Wanted to listen into the radio net” he said “They often have a get together this time of day”.
He turned on the SSB radio and they started to listen in.
“Howdy sport” said an Australian voice “How’s life on X-Change?”
Alan started. “Wasn't X-Change on the berth next to ours?” he asked.
He could picture them clearly. The skipper had been an ex-city type called Hugo who had insisted their two boats crews should have a dinner together and then patronised Alan for two hours before he’d managed to escape back to the boat on the excuse that he had to check the lightening conductor was properly earthed.
“I’m in the dog house” replied another Aussie voice “Skipper’s not forgiven me for walking in on him shagging that Cleo from My Fair Lady”.
Alan snapped the radio off. His inside tightened as they got colder and colder and then his stomach churned acid. His hands clenched tight around each end of the winch handle and he found his teeth were grinding as out of control cheek muscles pulled his face into a grimace.
He finally looked up at Cleo. He could see that her hands, wrapped around the drinks glass, were shaking. Her face had gone paper white that made her lipstick appear to be floating above her face. Her eyes were locked on his, and looking at them he felt that for once he could actually see her, not the mask she normally wore.
Then the mask snapped back and her chin rose slightly.
“Well” she said “This is awkward”.