‘Owning a boat is like standing in a cold shower, ripping up tenners — but it’s everything I dreamed it would be’

Joe Gibbs ignored the warnings and bought himself a boat. One year one, are the joys greater than the regrets?

They tell me I’ve had the second-best day of my life.

It fell on a calm day last November when I fulfilled a long-held desire to become the owner of a yacht, a Westerly 33 ketch built in 1978, a venerable dame of the seas called Emma Kay.

As to when the best day of my life will come, they know that, too. Salt-rimed ancient mariners, armchair yachtsmen and general-issue Jeremiahs, all are united in absolute certainty that it will fall on the day I sell Emma Kay. That is the first rule of the sea.

The second, which has already proved uncomfortably accurate, is that boat ownership is ruinously expensive. Splicing the word ‘marine’ onto anything from a humble shackle to a piece of high-tech clothing is taken as licence to treble the price. To own a boat, cackle the old salts gleefully, is to stand under a cold shower tearing up tenners. If it flies, floats or indulges in a time-honoured natural practice, rent it, they chorus.

The third rule seems to be that almost everyone you talk to will try to put you off sailing. Many questioned the sagacity of a 66-year-old landlubber taking his family and friends afloat. I knew the only way I would make time to achieve this ambition, nursed since the days of reading Swallows and Amazons, was to buy a boat. Its nagging presence, knocking against my conscience as it rocked on its west-coast mooring through the winter, would ensure that I got on with sailing it. In preparation, every Tuesday evening for six months I absorbed as much as I could of the arcane arts of navigation, bending a barnacled brain around the intricacies of charts, tide tables and courses to steer.

“I have spent much of my life exploring the beautiful west coast by land. To do so from the sea, with your own hand on the helm, is to open up an entirely new and compelling perspective”

May came, and time to get the boat in the water. In advance of our maiden voyage, I noticed my wife making a series of solemn visits in the neighbourhood. When asked their purpose, she said she was bidding her friends farewell, ‘just in case’.

We were setting out for an afternoon spin around Plockton bay that day, I pointed out, not to circumnavigate the globe.

Since then, stylishly accoutred in a captain’s hat, she has proved a worthy crew. Our boy, too, has overcome thalassophobia — a fear of deep water — to show enthusiasm and aptitude for the mariner’s life.

This first season afloat has been everything I ever hoped for and more. I have spent much of my life exploring the beautiful west coast of the Highlands and its islands by land.

To do so from the sea, with your own hand on the helm, however, is to open up an entirely new and compelling perspective. This, you feel, is how the west was made to be seen. Last week we sailed Emma Kay back from her mooring at Plockton to Inverness for the winter. On a day of pellucid calm we motored down the Sound of Sleat, past the islands of Eigg and Rùm and the Cuillins in the distance, and into Tobermory harbour in time for supper.

Much of the day, a fantasia of 50 dolphins processed acrobatically alongside us. Nearby, an orca rose among a flock of sea birds feeding on a shoal of fish. The next day, a wind arose and we tacked through squalls down the Sound of Mull into Loch Linnhe. Then up through the Great Glen and the Caledonian Canal to home.

This summer past with its first tentative voyages has left me feeling some of the best days of my life will be spent enjoying Emma Kay, not in parting with her.