A late departure from southampton saw us feeling our way in the dark along one of the serpentine channels of Poole Harbour. By local reputation. Poole is "the second largest natural harbour in the world" - but its shallows are forbidding and at night it is all too easy to stray into them and stick. We spent a raw night at anchor just outside the charmlessly misnamed South Deep (it isn't deep at all), listening to the howling of the wind and hoping we wouldn't wake to find ourselves washed up on the nearest shore.

I had broken a fitting on my autohelm on the way over from Southampton, and on the following morning, Ian set about fabricating a replacement. From the bowels of one of his fathomless lockers, he produced a strip of tired-looking stainless and spent the next three hours cutting, hammering and drilling it into a distinct improvement on the plastic original. By the time he had finished, the steel was tired no longer, but bright and smooth, with neatly rounded corners. And it fitted perfectly.

As I write these lines - tucked up in Poole's Dolphin Harbour just next to the town Quay - he is at it again with the same tenacity: fabricating gates for his lifelines so as to facilitate boarding and disembarking from Ardent. Before that he was wiring up loudspeakers on Ardent and trying to resolve a seemingly intractable electrical problem on Ahimsa.

His ability both to visualize solutions to repair problems and to carry them out strikes me as extraordinary. Odd pieces of piping, grotty scraps of metal, shards of plastic, off cuts of wood, disassembled valves with missing parts, all undergo rebirth in his hands - kicking and screaming in some cases as he bends them to his will. Moreover, as his friends know only too well, he is prodigiously generous no less with his time than with his talent. I hope readers will forgive me (and Ian also) for mentioning here what I and many others feel about the remarkably intelligent, warm-hearted and talented friend with whom I find myself sharing this adventure.

A taxi-driver told me that "in the old days" - Poole had 267 pubs. Though many have closed down over the last 100 years, enough have remained to give the impression that this is a party place. The old town quay boasts six or seven in line - with a similar number no more than half a block inland. Restaurants abound and they cater to every taste and pocket. Seaside booths selling everything from cockles and jellied eels, to chocolates, candies, and gaudy trinkets jostle for trade with rowdy pubs and elegant restaurants. Passenger boats boats tied up at the quay offer pleasure trips round the harbour with cafeteria, bar and uniformed personnel thrown in. Strollers along the promenade can ogle the futuristically-designed power-cruisers, with their elaborate fin-tails, space-ship windows and forest of strange-looking aerials on their coach roofs. A Poole-based company - Sunseekers - is a manufacturer of these "plastic fantastics" and the latest designs can be seen just across the water from the Town Quay.

One evening,a massive four-storey model which we judged to be a good 25 metres in length eased its way in - shiny black with streamlined windows and deep-throated engines. The night-shift guard told us that it belonged to a Nigerian oil billionaire and that he owned seven others which he kept dotted round the world in his favourite locations. Prices for vessels of this size are reputed to start at around 7 million. Impossible not to reflect on the context: a Nigerian billionaire who spares himself no expense, and the shanty towns of Lagos, home to some of what Neruda memorably described as - "la innumerable y castigada familia de los pobres" (the unnumbered chastised family of the poor).

Poole has an intriguing daily sequence of events. The kick-off begins mid-morning when groups of disabled people - many of them elderly - are taken on boat excursions. At around the same time, the cafes and tea-rooms are busy serving middle-aged retirees and vacationers.

Younger couples appear at around lunch-time - and now the pubs begin to hum. As the day wears on, so the street-life becomes younger until, by eight in the evening, the quay side throngs with teenagers and twenty-somethings out for a good time. Raucous music blares from the pubs; underdressed young women parade up and down puffing at cigarettes and casting side-long glances at the men. Groups of youths hang in the doorways of nightclubs and amusement parlours.

On Thursday evenings an impressive fireworks display thrills the crowd; Fridays bring live bands playing pop music or jazz; on Tuesdays the bikers are in town. Never a dull evening on Poole quay side. But as darkness falls and the entertainment winds down, the end is always the same: drunks of both sexes, leaning on each other for comfort and support, stagger off into the night.