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The Ship’s Compass

I have always felt a close connection to my maternal grandfather, Ralph Donovan Williams, although I never actually met him, as he sadly passed away whilst my mum was just a few weeks pregnant with me. However, I’ve been told that he was a very loving family man, who was always willing to help others. He was clever too, as he completed a three year course in marine engineering in just eighteen months.

In the late 1970s he bought a boat and decided that he would fix it up so that he could take my gran out on trips. He called it ‘October Girl’ after my mum, who was their only daughter.

The boat was placed in dry dock for a while so that he could undertake the necessary repairs, and quite understandably my gran was very excited about the prospect of trips out in it. Even though she had yet to see the boat, preferring to wait until it’s completion, she started to buy things for it, such as a compass and fabric to make the cushion covers for the seats.

Repairs were going well, especially as Grandad had an eighteen year old lad to help him at the docks. However, whilst he was at home ill, the lad took the boat out, crashed and sunk it.

Grandad’s health was, by that time, in decline, so he never did buy another boat, and sadly passed away peacefully in his sleep in 1982.

My gran has only recently started to tell me things about him, and I can see in her eyes that the memories are still very painful. She has been sorting out some cupboards and has found the ship’s compass, which had never actually been used on the boat.

I have been down to the docks and have spoken to some of the men who work on the boats and have asked them about Grandad. They have been very helpful and even knew the lad who sunk the boat, giving me his address. They have told me that this wasn’t the only boat he sank, as he made quite a habit of it.

Quite amazingly, this ‘lad’ lives in the same road as me and I visited him recently to talk about Grandad and his boat. He cannot remember him specifically, although the boat’s name did sound familiar, but joked that if it sank it was probably him at the wheel. I need to go again, taking along a photo to jog his memory.

It did feel strange speaking to the person who sank Grandad’s boat, destroying his dreams of taking my gran out on day trips. Although I don’t feel any resentment towards him, even though I thought that I perhaps would. I just feel slighly jealous that he worked with the grandfather I never knew.

The ship’s compass now takes pride of place next to my computer, along with a photograph of my grandfather, and Gran has even suggested that we make covers for my dining room chairs with the material she had planned to use on the boat.


© jennie 2009