We had berthed our yacht ‘Voyageur’ stern-to on the quay in the Port of Mahon in Menorca – it was in the middle of August and the heat was unbearable as we had no air-conditioning in those days, just a wind scoop which collected air and directed it down through a deck hatch into the saloon. It didn’t help at all.
I didn’t sleep well because of the heat and woke up one morning at five to the sound of marine engines chewing up the water opposite us on the quay, and shouted commands in German. My father (whom I had always called John) had also woken up and together we went topside to see what was going on.
A massive super-yacht flying a Panamanian flag had secured her lines and we looked up to see what we guessed were Filipino deckhands running all over the boat – and behind them was an old white-haired man dressed all in whites holding a whip which he was cracking as he ordered them to work faster.
The noise and commotion had attracted a mixed bunch of local fishermen and crew from nearby yachts who watched the goings-on in amazement.
The fishermen had been across the road in the bar they went to early every morning to drink gin and prepare for their day’s work at sea on their trawlers.
My father’s face turned ashen white as he observed what was happening and he cupped his hands and shouted up to the owner “Put down that whip or I will come and take it from you right now.”
The man looked down in surprise at us standing on the deck of our boat which was about three meters below him and replied in a heavy German accent “Mind your own business and fick dich.”
Well of course that really got John mad so he replied, “I’ll meet you on the quay and we will sort this out ok?” To which the German answered “Nein, but I will meet you in the fisherman’s bar this evening at 7 o’clock for a drink”.
I should mention at this point in the story that John had served both in the Merchant Navy before the war and then as a Marine Engineer during the war. He lost many of his friends and was with his ship at Dunkirk in June 1940.
At five minutes to seven that evening he said to me “Stay here on board and do not come to the bar under any circumstances.” Then he walked across the road.
The bar itself was an old fisherman’s cave built into the side of a cliff on the harbour. It was filled with old nets, glass buoys and an old anchor that apparently had come off a British warship.
For about two hours I heard the sound of singing and laughter, so I began to relax after a long day.
The real story goes (recounted to me by the Skipper of a nearby yacht who was in the bar at the time), that John asked the man, “Do you live in Germany and why are you flying a Panamanian flag.”
The German, who had drunk a huge quantity of Menorquin rum answered, ‘I live in Argentina and I was a Colonel in the SS.” Then he took off his white shirt and showed John an SS tattoo under his left arm.
John didn’t hesitate and landed a right-hook on his jaw which floored him momentarily. When the German recovered he got up and the fight was on and lasted nearly one hour.
Someone called the police (it wasn’t me as I was enjoying the show from across the road), and they turned up in a blue van and arrested John and the German and put them in jail for the night to cool off.
Of course, John was an old drinking pal of the Police Commander in Mahon and he was released at about six in the morning.
When he got a lift back to our yacht by the police I saw he had a black eye and bruises all over his face.
The super-yacht had already sailed but I am glad to say I had a final chance to give the finger to the owner when they cast away.
John said it was the most fun he had had for years!