I’m walking through a massive marquee, trying not to bump into anyone. I walk around the ChartCo stand, filled with sailing books of every possible kind. I spot my publisher and start to walk towards him.
I spin around to face my dad.
‘Oh my god.’
‘Go on then, go say hi!’ he says.
‘He’s talking to Robin Knox Johnston,’ I say.
I’m not sure that I’ve met anyone famous before, not RKJ famous. Robin is the Neil Armstrong of sailing and here he was saying, ‘hello, it’s very nice to meet you.’
He was lovely, happy and very affable in general, so completely at home in the busy boat show. He laughed at the blurb of my book, saying I was crazy for sailing such a long-distance with a partner.
And it is funny. No matter how scary things get at sea sailing solo, I suppose you never have to simultaneously ensure your relationship survives too.
Meeting and greeting
I’m in a heightened state of awareness, especially given that I can’t see much out of my left eye and yet I’m performing in the round, people appearing from every direction. My publisher keeps introducing me to people, my wonderful editor at Yachting Monthly swings by to catch up and say congratulations, members of the press turn up and my parents are milling around.
A man appears and introduces himself. I expect him to be press or an editor or someone with a professional reason for being there. When he says he’s been reading my articles in Yachting Monthly for years and really wanted to come and meet me for the book launch, it occurs to me that he’s just a reader. Just a stranger.
I’m astounded. It’s not the first time I’ve met a stranger who reads my articles, but that one should be inclined to make the effort to track down the stand and turn up for the book launch surprises me. All that effort, for me?
He’s lovely and later gets me to sign a copy of my book for him. I want to hug him, one of the few people who has turned up entirely of their own volition, with no professional reason or after being cajoled by someone I already know.
It’s odd – when I’m writing, I’m writing because I need to convey what I’ve seen and how I’ve felt. I write because I must, but also because for me, there’s no greater joy than creating. It’s incredibly strange, no matter how daft it sounds, to meet the people on the other side of my writing. The readers.
I’m talking and I have no idea what I’m saying
I’m still chatting to him when my publisher ushers me over to the side and before I know what’s happening, he’s quieting the modest crowd and introducing me and my fellow author Peter Aitken who’s also launching a book.
I’d almost forgotten about this moment.
Peter talks about his book first, an updated version of The Mirror Book about sailing mirror dinghies. I’m half listening to how he’s talking and half scrabbling for what to say myself. I’d planned out a few words the night before, but they were just scraps of memory now.
He finishes and then everybody looks at me.
I start talking, not entirely sure what words are coming out of my mouth and while I continue, I also listen back to what I just said. Did that make sense? Is that the right word? It’s immensely difficult to think about what you’ve just said while also continuing to talk. I could’ve spouted gobbledigook. But my friend Sophie later told me it all flowed – so there’s an impressive feat of the human brain for you – under pressure, it sort of goes to autopilot, formulating entire sentences with little help from my consciousness.
But here’s the jist.
‘It’s easy to think these days that by changing your location to one that more resembles a postcard, that you will become a better, happier person.
And In Bed with the Atlantic does explore beautiful places and it does show how I changed over the journey. But that change didn’t occur on palm-lined beaches. It came from the moments between the islands. It came from the strong wind, the scary times and the downright difficult.
I spent the best part of 18,000 miles battling with the sea, the weather and myself. But you can’t fight the wind and the waves. You need to cross the ocean, not try and move it. And I realised that I couldn’t fight myself either.
So In Bed with the Atlantic isn’t just about pretty places. It’s about learning to work with what you’ve got, and finding that it’s almost always more than enough.’
I’m not entirely sure how this came out, because after I finished my publisher turned to me to ask if I was all right.
And I was.
It’s emotional talking about my book because it’s essentially 85,000 words of myself, laid out in paperback form for anyone willing to pay for it. I’m not always very good at verbalising things, but my god, I can write it down. So that speech was the cusp of the most frightening thing of all – people being able to read the book.
I hovered around for the next 45 minutes signing copies (mainly for friends of my parents) and occasionally looking down at the signing table where there was a stack of my books next to a copy of the current Yachting Monthly where an article of mine was published.
There was once a time when just the idea of having something published in a glossy magazine was the pinnacle of my ideals. And now here I was, at my own book launch.
As I left, I realised something. I’d better start writing another book.
In Bed with the Atlantic was published on 11th September by Fernhurst Books. It’s available in paperback from Amazon, Waterstones and everywhere else that knows a reasonable book when it sees one.