Our friends have been writing to us lately asking whether we’re okay. At first it was just the folks back home in England. Then people as far away as Fiji and South Africa started commenting on our situation and suggesting that we might be in some kind of danger.
To be honest, we were a little bit worried ourselves before we crossed the river from Uruguay.
Surely, it’s not a good idea to go and visit a country when that country is shaking its fists at the one you call home?
The Argentine claim to a small archipelago lying 380 miles off the coast of South America is, of course, nothing new. And yet, 15 years ago, when we last visited the country nobody could have cared less what flag we flew. The “conflict” was stone cold dead and buried, and the losing team had long since finished licking their wounds. Now, however, with the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s unsuccessful invasion drawing nigh, the sordid business had been resurrected and given a new lease of life.
The islands were headline news in the Uruguayan papers while we were anchored off Piriapolis, and the internet was full of stories about a British warship which was alleged to be rushing south in readiness for a new armed conflict. The Argentine president was rattling her sabre. The British one accused her of colonialism. (I’ll bet the speech writer giggled to himself as he hit upon that choice accusation!)
Said I, to the rest of the crew, “Are we sure we want to sail to Argentina in this particular month? Suppose they start another war while we’re over there? We’d be enemy people, and so they’d have to lock us up.”
“Don’t be daft,” said Caesar (who hasn’t studied history, and who hasn’t had time to notice the way it repeats itself).
“We don’t want lots of aggro,” said Nick, “and we don’t want them confiscating the boat.”
“They’ve already banned Falkland Islands registered vessels…”
“All four of them,” muttered Caesar.
“… so who’s to say they won’t ban British ones in a week’s time?”
For a while we toyed with the idea of registering the boat in another country. Antigua, America, and Ireland were the favourite options.
Antigua would have been appropriate because Caesar has Antiguan citizenship, having been born there. “So, if the worst came to the worst, and they locked the rest of us up, he could still sail the boat back across the river to safety.”
Then we found that Antiguan registry costs several hundred dollars.
“A Welsh flag would be nice,” I suggested. My father is Welsh. “My Welsh ancestry goes back to 1520, and probably far beyond that, so I must be entitled to fly a Welsh dragon, don’t you think?”
Unfortunately, however, Wales does not have its own shipping register.
Of the remaining two options I favoured Ireland – mostly because I can’t think of anything the Irish have ever done to offend anybody (unless you count Val Doonican) – but I was not at all sure that our Irish friends would approve of the pretence; so in the end we decided to stand up and be counted.
“What the heck! You only die once, hey!”
In the event, when we reached Argentina our worries soon began to seem very silly.
The Prefectura (marine police), when they heard that we were from England, apologised for the fact that there was no one present who spoke good English. “Enjoy your stay,” said the officer as he stamped our passports.
The boy in the ice cream shop was absolutely wowed when he found that his customers had come all the way from England to eat his chocolate ripple.
The couple in the bakery were thrilled to bits when we broke the news. “My grandfather was from London! Do you know London? Ah, that’s marvellous! Welcome to Argentina!”
In fact, it seems to be almost impossible to find an Argentinean who doesn’t boast some sort of connection with Britain, and a substantial number still speak perfect English – with a very nace accent – having been sent to Grandfather’s old school.
Despite the fact that there are a number of foreign flagged yachts in and around Buenos Aires, overseas arrivals are still greeted with enthusiasm and curiosity. Indeed, nowhere have we ever been asked so often, “Where are you from?”, and nowhere have we ever been welcomed by so many people.
While we were anchored at Ensenada (near La Plata) the local yotties used our boat as a turning mark and invariably called out greetings to us as they passed.
“The Argentineans are the friendliest people we’ve ever met!” remarked Roxanne.
Now that we are moored on the Rio Lujan (near Buenos Aires) there are five times as many boats around and still every single one of them greets us with enthusiasm:
“Where are you from? Wow! That’s a long way! Are you having a nice holiday? You live on the boat! That’s amazing! Can I take your photograph? We do hope you have a nice stay in Argentina.”
Last Sunday Nick had to bring his work below decks, since the non-stop parade of boats and of interviewers had brought progress to a standstill.
Often these good people don’t just offer their best wishes; they also offer their assistance:
“This is my card. If you need anything – anything at all – you call me, right?”
One young fellow, passing by on his SUP board, asked us to come to his house for lunch. Another fetched us in his speedboat, fed us supper at his very des res, and then took us for a high speed moonlit tour of the river. Yet another offered to help us ferry our very heavy mainsail to the sailmaker for repairs. One family even invited us to come and spend a weekend at their ranch, playing polo! (Since three-quarters of the crew are not competent to ride anything other than a bicycle, we felt it best to postpone this event…)
Don’t mention the war
One thing that our hosts don’t tend to talk about is the war. And when they do, they toss the question in at the end of the conversation: “What do you think about the Malvinas?”
What can we do but shrug our shoulders helplessly?
This invariably provokes laughter.
One very good friend, having heard of our concerns, introduced us to his friends with the words, “These people are from England. Don’t mention the islands.”
Again, this caused everyone to giggle.
Neither Nick nor I was in England at the time of the Falklands Conflict. Nick was sailing around the world with his parents and I was backpacking in Austria. Thus, by chance, we were able to watch the unfolding of events as outsiders.
Both prime ministers were eager to grasp the fame and glory afforded by a war win – Galtieri having misread the tea leaves; Thatcher having been given a golden opportunity.
Both psyched their people up, using the media to incite feelings of justice injured and national pride. The latter – that tribal feeling so fundamental to human nature – is a very dangerous thing.
But it would seem that people all over the world are learning not to fall for the politicians’ tricks.
15 years ago when we came here the war was an embarrassment to our friends.
This time around, it is just a thing of the past. We have yet to meet one single person who is moved by Mrs Kirchner’s tears and her oratory.
More than one Argentinean yachtsman has told us, “Don’t worry about our president. We won’t get fooled again.”
As for who actually owns the islands, without exception everyone that we’ve met tells us that the islands used to be Argentinean but that they now belong to the people who live there.
The vast majority of Argentineans are descended from emigrants who came, for the most part, from Italy, England, Wales, Germany, or Spain; and most of them came here only a few generations ago. When the president eggs them on to feel possessive about Las Malvinas and tells them that the Falkland Islanders are squatters, they scratch their heads. As one chap said, “If we kick them out of the islands, maybe the Indians will kick us out of here!”
On the 30th anniversary of the conflict the streets were lined with posters announcing a parade; but the local yotties continued to parade up and down the creek, instead, and they were just as friendly as ever to their guests.
If we were moored alongside a public quay then, I suppose, some rabid nutter might take it into his head to come aboard Mollymawk and burn our red duster… but he’d still be just a nutter, and you can meet them pretty much anywhere in the world.
As the rest of us all now realise, it’s politicians who start wars and only the simple-minded still believe their rhetoric.
So -to those of you who have expressed concern: thank-you; but we reckon we’re as safe here as we would be anywhere else in the world.
Mind you, we have hidden the red duster – and hoisted some prayer flags instead – just in case that nutter happens to paddle by.