Sunday, 2 September 2018


“Ah come on Charlie! Away with your feckin’ psychobabble! You must have some regrets. It’s not as if your life’s been screw-up free!”

I laugh and agree with my friend, but to answer his question I have to switch off and scan my memory files for regret.

Have I made decisions that in hindsight were naive, destructive, or just plain stupid?

Yes, m’Lud. Guilty as charged.

So why do I not plead guilty to regretting them?

Well, m’Lud, they were decisions I chose to make, driven either by love or knowing no better, so yes, they were bad decisions but no, I don’t regret making them.

Searching searching and yes, back in 1985, I had the chance to be taught how to sail and passed it by. I regret that.

After retiring from the corporate world in October ’84, I’d found a tiny shop called Trailfinders. In those days budget Round The World trips were a relatively new concept, so I stitched together my own, arriving in New York, then on to stay with my friend Angie in the Bahamas.

After that came the great cities of DC, Philadelphia and San Francisco, so by the time I flew out of LA I was ready to do very little on Tahiti.

While Polynesia catered amply for the rich, those down in the basement of travelling budgets dwelt in giant straw huts, balanced on stilts above mud pools breeding mosquitoes the size of tennis balls.

Holed up in the hut during endless humid days of rain, I chatted to Cory, an Anglo-Saxon Californian Amazon, tanned hazelnut brown from her 6 foot 3 crown all the way down. 

Although physically attracted to her, I felt wary, as she was prone to spouting irritating maxims such as:

“The more I say ‘I’, the more likely I am to lie!”

To these I replied silently in my head

“Speak for yourself love!” while my insecure 24 year-old face forced an expression of false awe at her wisdom.

We travelled to Aukland together and in the hostel lobby I found Cory, talking to some old geezer. My London head was concerned that this Valley Girl was vulnerable to being conned, but I was underestimating her, this man and New Zealand altogether.

Just as I still have no idea how Cory spelt her name (was it Cory, Corey or the traditional CoRi?) I’ll never know if that gentleman was called Maurice or Morris, but a gentleman he was, and more: an inspiration and revelation.

Maurice was a wiry retired teacher who’d spent his life hand- building the stunning Celeste, a beautifully fitted-out 38 foot yacht.

Clearly he’d been a vocational teacher as he loved to share his vast knowledge of the local environment. Every couple of months he came down to this hostel, looking for two or three young people who might be interested in sailing with him on Celeste, around the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, on the edge of the South Pacific.

For the next three weeks I lived an existence utterly different to anything I’d experienced before. 


Gentle and gliding in movement, strong and steady in muscle, Maurice was a passionate man whose sole loathing was noise. He hated boats with engines.

After a few hours I too was in love with being under sail.

Shooting across the ocean with the wind rustling Celeste’s great sheets brought a thrill of excitement, alongside an exhalation of calm.

All day I sat on deck and watched the blues and whites of wave and sky, listened to the splash-crash of water on wood, the flap of breeze on canvas and in the background, the sound of Maurice teaching Corey how to sail.

He asked me if I wanted to join in but I declined. I was really happy, simply sitting on deck and staring, allowing myself to feel as far from the world of marketing Japanese photocopiers as a man could get.

However when Maurice declared it time to catch dinner, I paid attention.

“Over there, where those black and white birds are circling. Steer her that way, Charlie!”

We dropped hand lines over Celeste’s sides and lo! We hauled up a feast of Kahawai the size of salmon.

Then we’d drop anchor in a silent empty bay and take a dingy to the shore, where we’d follow Maurice as he prowled the clifftops, looking for edible roots and plants. This we now know as foraging.

To us in January 1985 it was what Maurice did: new, ancient and remarkable.
We’d build a fire on the beach, cook our fresh fish and veggies, and drink the beer which Maurice bought with the paltry 2 dollars a day we’d been asked to contribute.

“Yeh, mate. I suppose I regret not letting Maurice teach me how to sail. That’d be a great skill to have, and he was such a fine teacher.”

 Corey and that deck....

“You’re some weird soul, Charlie, if you can find regret anywhere in that tale.”

Reflecting 35 years later, I realise that sitting on Celeste’s deck changed my life. My decision not to learn sailing allowed me to discover something far more important.

For the first time in my life I was free to stare into the horizon for hour upon hour, day after day.

On that gorgeous deck I rediscovered the spaced-out peace I’d first felt on childhood holidays at a farm in Somerset.

On Celeste I grew to understand that while I had the ability to be a marketing success in the eyes of everyone else, for me all that high-flying city stuff would always feel utterly meaningless, unless my life included times of deep calm.

Having talked myself out of my own argument, I turn to my friend.

“Nah, sorry mate, changing my mind. Didn’t learn how to sail, but I found out how to make myself happy, so no, cancel that. No regrets at all.”

“You’re a lucky man, Charlie.”

“I know mate.”

©Charlie Adley
02.09. 2018.

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