My Grandpa Still Guides Me


First published in PS I Love You on Medium

Nilfanion, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Holidays and weekends with my grandparents gave my childhood the idyllic sheen of Cornish seaside life. My Grandpa Spent his life guiding boats in and out of the harbour. Hardly a day goes by all these years later without me feeling his presence as if he is still guiding me now. 

My Grandpa was a Pilot

Not a sky pilot, a marine pilot. When he started, he was working with a team of rowers in a Cornish Pilot Gig. Several pilot teams worked out of the harbour, and when they noticed an incoming ship, the teams would race to reach it. The winner got to guide the ship in and pocket the fee. With radios and motorised boats, things changed radically over his lifetime. 

When I began regular trips to stay with them, he was retired from that role and captained the local ferry back and forth for part of each day. This left him plenty of time to take us on outings exploring the estuary and all of the local beaches and coves. 

These days and weeks became my most cherished childhood memories. 

How he guided the whole village

My Grandad did not talk much. He never owned a car but looked after several boats. He smoked his pipe and thought deeply. He never drank alcohol or went to the local pub. I only witnessed him in conversation when he was on the local Quay discussing the weather, the tides, the conditions at sea, or the harbour boats. 

We had been on a favourite beach some distance from home for most of the day. It was a beautiful cove only accessible by boat or a long walk. A dozen families had anchored their boats off the beach. There were rocks to dive off and rock pools to explore. We had finished our picnic lunch when he paused from looking out to sea to remove his pipe from his mouth and say, 

“It’s time to go.” 

The children did not receive this instruction well. There were screams, arguments and sulks. The adults in our party batted all this away as they hurriedly bundled up their belongings and moved towards the shoreline. 

Other families noticed the action and began to follow. A couple of people consulted Grandad, and after a brief chat, they were scuttling around getting their boat and family ready to leave.

We were the first to leave, and Grandad stood at the tiller in the back of the boat, now heading up a convoy of local boats.

As we pulled out into the open sea, we saw the reason for the hurried evacuation. There was a bank of fog rolling in from the horizon. Within seconds it enveloped us. 

Amidst constant chattering from excited children, Grandpa took his pipe from his mouth and said,

“Be quiet.”

Instantly we stopped and did not utter another word until we were safely back on land. There were times when the fog was so thick I could not see the rest of my family. I sat listening to the sound of the motor, the sea and the gulls. I am sure I was afraid we would end up on rocks we could not see, but I also felt totally safe in the hands of my Grandad.

Grandpa left his pipe in his pocket and stood alert and focused in the stern of the boat as he guided the whole village home. I have no idea how he did it. It was a two-mile journey along a rocky coastline with no visual clues along the way. Was he smelling his way home? Was he interpreting the sound of water on rocks and shingle? Did he listen for seabirds?

I was aware of passing the rocky promontory at the harbour mouth, and the next thing I saw was the little pram (dinghy) we used to shuttle us back to shore. Grandpa had already shut off the engine, and we silently drifted towards it. 

The image of my grandad guiding us is still with me. 

My grandad wore a black beret and smoked a pipe. If I am out at sea in a kayak, I see him on the cliffs staring out to sea, keeping me safe. But recently, I have felt his presence in many other non-maritime situations. 

In my role as counsellor, if I am unsure of how to find my way forward with a client, I picture him at the back of the boat with his hand on the tiller. His presence coaches me to listen to all my senses and trust them. To trust my intuition and allow my body to be guided safely home. I hear his gentle voice.

“Be quiet.” 

I trust the silence and listen for the small sounds that will guide us both forward. My grandad taught me many things all those years ago.  

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