There is a time to keep, and a time to cast away, but more than that the act of decluttering allows us the opportunity to revisit and revive long-forgotten memories and reflect on them in our present before letting them go again, making space for new memories and experiences to create additional layers in our lived experience.
As an artist, all of this also provides fresh inspiration and ideas that will filter in and inform my art.
Recently while decluttering I found an old Christmas card from Bob Baillie. Bob was the skipper of DRIVER, a Yacht I worked on as a crew in the Caribbean in 1974. In 1973 my step-brother Jamie sailed across the Atlantic on IMAGINE, a yacht he shared with 3 others. We devised a plan where I would meet up with him, my father (his step-father) and my step-mother (his mother) in English Harbour, Antigua. This rendezvous was arranged to take place after I had spent the New Year with my mother, step-father, sister, brother & friend, Clare, in Nassau, in the Bahamas.
Before travelling to Antigua I flew to Belize, where I met up with a friend who was stationed there with the British Army. I travelled into Guatemala for the weekend with several of his friends before flying on to Antigua, arriving just before Jamie & his fellow sailors.
The yacht DRIVER belonged to a Canadian family called Graham. Their plan was to sail it around the world, and from time to time, when they went home, they left Bob, a New Zealander in charge. DRIVER was anchored in English Harbour, close to IMAGINE, where I was living temporarily. While in English Harbour I worked on a large motor yacht, cooking for the crew and being a housekeeper. The owners wanted me to stay on but I wasn’t keen. Jamie and I discovered that DRIVER was due to sail to Martinique to meet up with friends of the Grahams. Bob had a crew but we asked if I could join the yacht and cook for this trip. I was meant to leave the yacht in Martinique, luckily the guests insisted I stay, especially if I was going to do the cooking! This coincided with IMAGINE leaving English Harbour too.
The crew of DRIVER was quite small, just myself Bob and a few others. Then an American, John, who’d previously worked on DRIVER joined us. Our job was to meet and entertain visitors, friends and /or relatives of the Grahams.
During this time Bob nicknamed me Fish due to my surname, Fisher, not shortening my Christian name to Fanny, Frannie or Fan as others had done.
I crewed on DRIVER from the end of January to early May 1974. I loved the sense of freedom and adventure of Yacht life; light and freewheeling, no ties no duties. I really enjoyed sailing the boat with just Bob and John between hosting the visitors.
One slightly alarming incident I do recall however was when I fell overboard. One night we were in a harbour but the head (loo) wasn’t working, so we had to use a bucket on the deck. It was very hot and our guests were sleeping on the deck. I tried to empty the bucket silently over the side. I managed that but then followed the bucket into the water. Not sure how I got back on board, with the bucket still in my hand, as it was a long way to reach up for the ladder.
I finally met Phil, the owner of DRIVER, in Martinique. He skippered us from there to Bermuda. He offered John and me a voyage across the Atlantic, but instead we chose to fly to Johns’s family in Ohio and drive across the States. This was problematic for me as I had great trouble getting a visa to enter the States, and could only do so if I showed a return ticket to fly back to the UK. In hindsight, this was a blessing.
Reflecting on these times I have many happy memories of the whole adventure, most of which was unplanned. I appreciate now how well I did, using such an amazing opportunity to explore the world. I might have stayed in America with John, on reflection I’m happy with the way things panned out.
I would encourage anyone to give it a try, especially my own grandchildren – travelling is in my bones and their DNA.
Bob and his wife Betsy kept in touch with long letters and Christmas cards for many years while travelling the seas on their own yacht.
Looking back, I realise now for me painting is as adventurous as travelling, it’s a nail-biting journey of exploration.