‘I’m sure something will turn up if you order it. Have faith, and go ahead.’ I sketched on the back of an envelope the hull that I should like to have. This was passed to Robert Clark, who designed Gipsy Moth III for us. Jack Tyrrell’s boatyard in Arklow, Ireland, started building it. Throughout the year, worried about my business, I alternated between bouts of despair at the liability of the new boat, and waves of enthusiasm for it.
After the last sail in Figaro, I had a desperate attack of worry. I was struggling hard to make my map business pay. It was not big enough to pay for the new talent it needed in both the sales and the production departments, but it was too big for me to provide all the new ideas as well as the sales drive needed. Now I had this ghastly load of a new boat added, with all the extra work of planning it, and visiting it in Ireland. I had a nightmare fear of not being able to sell Gipsy Moth II, and of being landed with two yachts. It was all too much to bear. The trouble was that by the end of the Fastnet I was tired out. If only I had laid off everything for a week, I should have regained the strength to cope with things.
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Every weekend I went down to the Beaulieu River, and worked on Gipsy Moth II, trying to tidy up the mess after the season’s racing. I worked feverishly by myself, feeling that I could not afford to pay a boatyard to do the work. Sheila said this was nonsense. Bitterly, I accused her of failing to help me, and came down by myself. I worked furiously while the yacht swung to her mooring in the grey swirls of autumn mist on the glassy water. There always seemed so little time for work on the yacht, after I had cooked my meals and done the boat’s housekeeping.
One of my jobs was to remove some old paint on the forecastle sole (floor). To do this, I used a strong chemical paint-remover, to dissolve the old paint. I worked on my knees, doubled up over the stuff on the floor, and the forehatch was closed above my head, because of the cold. I believe that the fumes burnt my lungs, and that my lung trouble started then. I was in bad condition, run down, and flooding my body with poisons distilled from negative feelings – despair, resentment, bitterness, fear, worry, exhaustion. I began to cough. I retired to bed in my little room at the top of No. 9 (St. James’s Place) with a ‘cold on the chest’. I got better, and went to Ireland with Robert Clark to see the frame of Gipsy Moth III, and to discuss the building. When I got home, I went to bed with pleurisy. I got better again, and my nature-cure doctor said that I should have as much fresh air as I could get. I went out in a cold wind, and retired to bed with pneumonia, it was said. Again I improved, again did the same silly thing of going out in cold air, and again was back in bed, this time with an abscess in my lung. Three or four months after I first got ill I improved, and went down to Brighton for a weekend. Here we ran into an ocean racing skipper acquaintance; he was a doctor and implored us to have my lungs X-rayed.
My own doctor wanted this too, so I turned up at a famous London hospital, where I waited on a bench for six hours while X-rays were taken and discussed. The radiologist asked me a curious question, ‘Had I ever breathed in a feather into my lungs?’ The surgeons wanted to discuss the X-ray pictures, and I had to go back some days later. I began to feel much worse, due (I thought) to the travelling to and from the hospital, to the waiting about, and making efforts. I was interviewed by the chief surgeon, one of the leading lung and heart men in Britain. To my surprise a door opened, and in filed a dozen young student surgeons, and the big chief proceeded to use me for a demonstration. He said, ‘This is a typical case of an advanced carcinoma. Now breathe out. No, not into my face. Here are all the usual symptoms.’ He discussed my breathing, prodded the base of my neck with his finger, and picked up my fingers to show something in the fingernails, but flung them aside.