"Hello Buoys!"

by It's Only Me from Across the Sea

Tom and Jerry Get Their Toes In The Water

This is part of an occasional series of vignettes in the lives of our two heroes, and may introduce some of their friends. It's a series, not a serial, though it's likely that the timeline will start at the first one and go on through. Time will tell, pun intended, if that was a pun of course.

"Tom? You want to?"

"Not sure. It's a pretty big step."

"Not that big. We've done the easy stuff."

"Let me think about it for a bit, Jerry"

He's Tom, I'm Jerry, and neither of us is in a cartoon. My mate Ben, on the other hand, is deeply into ice cream. That's a rocky road to obesity, that is. But this is about me and Tom.

Actually it was almost about Tim and Tom, but my folks just preferred Jeremy to Timothy when they named me. So it's about Jerry and Tom.

I'm the one with the mousey brown hair. Tom's is sleek and glossy and black. And there ends any similarity to Messrs Hanna and Barbera, or to the others who created the cartoons. We get the comments all the time as soon as people know we're friends.

When I was thirteen I learned to sail. By the time I was sixteen I knew I loved it. And I knew I couldn't afford a boat, but I'd joined the local club and sailed on other people's boats.

So did Tom.

We were sailing together a lot, and sailing with other folk a lot. Our club's got a couple of of GP14s, that are kept for younger members to borrow. The committee reckon it makes sense to keep us afloat. There are more modern boats, and other clubs have them, but we've had the GPs since way before I joined, and the club has an active GP fleet. That was when I was 14, I think. It's how I met Tom. He's been a member since he was in nappies!

He took me under his wing when I joined. I'm a bit shy, and he, well, isn't. What he is, I've found, is at ease with people and things, but not quite as confident as he deserves to be with his sailing. He's better than he thinks he is. He just overthinks things.

I wonder if that's all he overthinks, sometimes.

I like having the weekend to look forward to. Tom and I don't go to the same school even though we live a short cycle ride apart, but I like seeing him at weekends when we sail, even if we often sail on other boats. I look forward to it. His face lights up when we're together. It makes mine light up, too.

We're about the same height. On the GP we sort of fit together, though we're a bit light for it in heavy weather. I'm wiry, he's got a bit of puppy fat. I'm not sure either of us are handsome, but I like his face. I think it's the way his eyes smile almost all the time. The only time they stop smiling's when he's thinking, overthinking.

I'm relaxed with him. It's not like school. School's a mælstrom of things I don't quite understand. Not the work, I can do most of the work. It's the social stuff. Who's kissed who. Hmm, that should be 'whom'. Pedantic, much?

I haven't. Well, not unless you count playing 'sardines' when I was younger. That doesn't count. It doesn't. Does it? That was Angela Swithmore I kissed, er, who kissed me. It was wet, and tasted of spearmint chewing gum. I was 12. I had a really great time. That was not it.

I wonder if being kissed by Spearmint Swithmore put me off girls. I can admire a beautiful one, but not in an 'I want to get up close and rather more personal than you can in front of your granny' kind of way. Nor, come to that, in any way except being friends. I know I'm being mean with the name I've given to Angela. She's at school with me and I like her. Well, until she got into makeup and boys and stuff. She's pretty, too. And yes, I've got hard looking at her, but that happens when I see a nice sofa, or am in the middle of a maths lesson trying to get to grips with differential calculus, or I'm on the bus, or showering after PE if I'm unlucky. It's not the type of hard that, well, goes anywhere, if you get my drift. It's more an annoyance than erotic.

Come to think of it I'm not sure erotic stuff has actually happened to me, even in my head. I don't do internet porn. They're all rather forced, and rather too old, and very grunty and moany. And the business end of the girls is either very neat and tidy or rather unruly. Still, I suppose I'll fall for one and that part won't matter. It's just a bit of plumbing!

The blokes in porn are just, well, ewww! And I feel so inadequate. Mine's meant to be normal, but the porn men are gigantic!

Blimey, where did that all come from? I was just talking about weekends.

Last weekend was awesome. We both sailed one of the club GPs. Tom helmed, I crewed. I'm better at spinnakers than he is, he's better at tactics than I am. He chose the port end of the start line and dared to start on the port tack. I'm not brave enough to do that; all the starboard tack boats have right of way over the port tack ones.

We crossed the entire fleet by a whisker. I was sure he'd misjudged it, and one starboard boat got awfully close to our rudder as we crossed, but we were ahead.

"Damn," he said. "If I'd been a little more ahead I'd have tacked on top of them and sat on their wind."

It was blowing some, about the bottom end of force 5, and we both had to sit out hard to balance the boat. The GP sails best just off flat, and we're a bit light, but it gives us a weight advantage if we can keep the boat driving.

"Right, get ready to tack." Tom had all those decisions that day. "I think we can fetch the mark if we go now. We're going to have to work hard. I think we've got the lot."

It went right. We got to the windward mark ahead of all but one; he's the one who always wins the series racing, so I wasn't surprised, just annoyed. "Can we fly the spinnaker on the reach?" I was getting myself ready.

"Not sure. Watch him... Yes, he's getting ready, so're the boats behind. You ok with it?"

"Too bloody right. You steer it, I'll drive it!"

One boat behind us got into a mess and tipped in with the kite half hoisted. My hoist went cleanly. Pole on, sheet home, weight aft, bow up. I can feel the adrenaline as I put this on paper now, it was awesome then, too. No time to do anything except concentrate hard and balance, balance, balance.

By the gybe mark we'd kept our lead over the rest of the fleet, but made no inroads into the lead of the boat ahead. We expected him to gybe well round it and we planned for the same.

I fumbled it and we lost a couple of boat lengths while I unfumbled. Not just boat lengths on the leader, the rest of the fleet caught up, except another one tipped in at the gybe. I had Queen going through my mind briefly, very briefly. I wanted to reel the leader back in, and it was too early to gloat. We could be next! We were only on the third leg of the first triangle . We had the sausage and another triangle to do. We sail on a good sized reservoir, no current to worry about, just wind shifts.

No drama at the leeward mark. The leader tacked round it, we held on. One of us was right. I knew enough that I'd want to stay between the boats behind us and the next mark, but that was impossible, most of the fleet followed him, about a quarter followed us.

The thing is, I'd never been this far up the fleet before. I know I said Tom overthinks, but that must have been working out for us. We caught the leader at the windward mark, called 'STARBOARD' on him and surprised him into a crash tack to avoid us. We rounded the mark ahead of him. Now problems: up spinnaker and a dead run to the leeward mark. The fleet behind us gave us dirty air. They had much cleaner air, more boat speed.

"Keep it up," I said to him, and grinned. "Keep 'em off all the way to the mark."

"Yeah, you just want me naked!"

"Brat! Anyway you're wearing a wetsuit!" I giggled. "Sail the boat! We can win this!"

With GPs every boat's the same design, so the only real advantage is the way you sail the race. Otherwise it's people throwing money at new sails, something these veteran boats have very rarely, and crew weight, which we don't have much of, certainly not compared to the boat we'd just overtaken. Light weight's an advantage up to a point, and if we'd had any more wind we'd have been too light for the upwind legs. In the gusts we were, a bit, but this dead downwind leg let us make the most of our weight advantage.

"Doing my best!" Tom was grinning ear to ear.

We scraped round the leeward mark in first place, didn't fumble our spinnaker drop, hardened up and stayed on the same tack. This time the fleet choose our route. Damn we worked hard. Pointed up in the gusts, steered for speed in the normal wind, and kept watch astern in case the fleet tacked away. Now we were at the front we had to stay there. We needed the same wind that they had. Two boat lengths ahead, which is what we were, is not a safe lead.

At the windward mark we had two reaches under spinnaker to go plus a hard beat to the finish. We could still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The first spinnaker reach was ok, and we did a great gybe at the wing mark. Then we had luck! The boat just astern of us tipped in on the gybe, spinnaker in a mess. They were in the way of the fleet who had to go round them. We grabbed another three boat lengths, so I was told later. We were too busy to notice. The boat that fell in was caught by a huge gust and we were struggling with it, too much sail up and no way to get inboard to get rid of the kite.

"We're going for boat speed. We can harden up later." Tom bore away a little and we sheeted in, moved the weight right aft, and took off like a rocket. It was a risky tactic, might well lose us the race. I don't argue with Tom on things like that. He's been sailing longer than I have.

As the gust eased we were quite a way ahead of the fleet, but a bit downwind of the leeward mark. "We can't carry the kite when you aim for the mark."

"I know," he said. We'll harden up as much as we can with it up. Then get ready to drop it fast and we'll close reach in. I think we have enough lead to scrape round ahead. Then we just have to hold them off on the beat to the finish."

The leeward mark we were almost caught. The boat chasing us had enough to get an overlap before the zone, and keep it into it. He claimed mark room. We had to give it. He tacked, we tacked to try to cover him. He was all we cared about. No-one else was near enough. 'All' we had to do was to inch ahead and stay there and keep between him and the finish. This is where I fall apart. Mum says I'm like Virginia Wade was until she managed to win Wimbledon, always finding great reasons not to keep my lead.

Neck and neck to the line, we were windward boat and we were pretty much bow to bow. Then his bow inched past ours. He could get quite a way in front before he would cross the line before us, but it was still touch and go. If we'd tacked away we'd have lost, so we held on. The wind had freshened and we had adrenaline, too. We were at our limit for sailing the boat well, he had extra weight on us and could balance better to keep it flatter. Then the wind headed us both. Sailing for the new wind we could get past the outer distance mark at the finish, and he couldn't without tacking, and he couldn't tack without a rule infringement that would have meant he had to do a 720º penalty turn.

"PAAAAARPPPP!" The finish hooter. We'd won!

The first time I'd ever won a race, ever! The first time we'd won a race ever. I was so happy I was crying!

"You did it! We won!"

"I just steered the thing." Tom was smiling. "We did, didn't we!"

Life got a bit wet suddenly. I let go of the foresail and put my arms around him and kissed him! Something I had not expected me to do.

Nor had he. He let go of the main and tiller and kissed me back as the boat fell over to windward on top of us.

"Wow!" I spluttered, both very adrenaline buzzed from the race and the kiss and a bit worried

"That was unexpected."

"Yeah, me too." He paused, getting his fringe out if his eyes. "Does that mean you love me?" His eyes were twinkling.

"Seriously? I have no idea. I know I love you right now!"

At which point the safety boat turned up. "Does this mean you've both come out?" Andy, the safety skipper that day was only a couple of years older than us and as gay as an easter parade. "I've always thought you made a great couple!"

"Piss off Andy!" I was laughing. "He helmed us to win the race, so I kissed him. Nothing gay about that at all!"

"You keep thinking that, cutie!" Andy can do really camp when he wants. "Now do you two lovebirds want rescuing or are you gonna sail it home."

"We're going to sail it home," Tom said.

So we got it upright and sailed the water out through the transom flaps and came back towards the slipway. On the way Tom asked me about the kiss. I told him I'd no idea where it had come from, but that it felt right. "Felt right for me, too," he said. "I've been hoping..." and he tailed off.

"If you mean what I think you mean, I've no idea. I've never even thought about it. I just knew, suddenly, with absolute clarity, that I wanted to kiss you. So I did. I, er, I, well, I don't do kissing."

"Seemed to come naturally. Wetter than I expected, though! Jerry, I've been a little in love with you since I met you."

"So you're gay, like Andy?"

"Two points. One, I'm not sure. Two, no, not like Andy, nice as he is. Three, just you, not anyone else."

"That's three points."

"Yeah, well, you surprised me!"

We got the boat put away. And we did a lot of talking between being teased by those who'd seen the kiss first hand, and those who'd heard a much more exciting description of it from Andy! You know what was more important?

Winning the race.

That was the most important thing of the afternoon.

We'd won.

We weren't going to win the series. Others were borrowing the boats next weekend, not us, but we'd won this race, this one, this afternoon, in a decent blow.

We might have won something else, too.

We talked a lot that afternoon. We always went to one set of parents or the other for supper after sailing. We spent a lot of time after supper sitting in Tom's garden, talking about things, about whether that kiss was just a kiss, whether, like the Whistle Down The Wind musical says, and Meatloaf sings so well, A Kiss is a Terrible Thing to Waste. It's certain that a kiss is still a kiss, though... As Time Goes By .

None of which has explained anything about the big step, has it? Hold that thought. It's just not in this episode of our lives.

These are the boats that Jerry and Tom sail at their club, the video is from the 2012 Howard Davis Youth Week. The GP14 is a well tried and tested design dating from 1949. It's easy to sail, but technically challenging to sail well, as some of the video footage shows. The video's shot in wind that is a smidgen less strong that the race our heroes sailed


There's more glossary than you can shake a stick at here. The terms that you don't know, if they matter to you, use a search engine. The only ones that aren't easy to search are things like kite which is a synonym for a spinnaker, though that ought to be obvious in the context.

The Zone is an area around a turning mark which confers special rights on the inside, usually trailing boat under certain prescribed conditions.

I'm not about to teach you to sail! I do that for a local charity where I live.

The series title

I've noticed some US folk can't pronounce 'buoy' correctly. It is not a booo-eeee. However hard you try to convince the rest of the world that you're right, it rhymes with 'boy', 'toy', 'coy' and 'ploy'. And, if you don't believe me, even though I'm correct, humour me for this set of vignettes.

The overall title for the series, "Hello Buoys!" is inspired by Wonderbra's 1994 advert. The marks that boats race around are buoys. Just in case you need me to hammer this home, our heroes are homonyms of 'buoys'.

Where did this story come from?

Not entirely in my imagination, though it's an amalgam of several experiences from my formative years, coupled with wishful thinking, and inspired by a lad of rising 16 whom I see afloat here from time to time. He plays Tom in this tale. He overthinks, too.

In that race just run, which was real, though on the river Thames, I was helming, and the boy I adored was my crew. We won. I was so in love with him, the more so that day than ever before or since. I never kissed him. We'd have got just as wet if I had, and I'm sure there would have been no happy-ever-after.

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