Tuesday 16 July 2013

Learning curve #1: Birds of the Floating World

I love being surprised. I recently returned from a trip which took me and a friend from Vienna, Austria to Tirana, Albania, via Croatia and Montenegro. It surprised me every day. Bliss.

When you are on the road, the worst thing you can do is not learn. The second worst thing you can do is not laugh at yourself and your situation. If you travel like I do, you find yourself in situations you haven’t thought through; those which are unexpected, often difficult and hilarious and… a complete surprise.

These moments teach you something. They teach you about yourself and more about life and what’s out there. I’ll be sharing some stories from the trip that upped my learning of myself, my friend and life in general. Here is one of them.

Birds of the floating world

Maria and I rented a boat to explore Dugi Otok (Long Island) in Croatia and its surrounding coves and islands as well as Kornati National Park nearby. The boat’s owner was a big personality by the name of Branco who knew everything about everything. And he didn’t trust two girls with his boat.
“You realise I am stuck here in case I have to rescues you?”
“You MUST behave!”
“No rocks! Something goes wrong, you have to pay.”
“No, I do NOT trust you.”
“We see if you survive.”
I know it sounds as if we were taking away his speed boat or prized yacht, but it was simply this:

Sally rests in her bunker after a heavy day out on the seas around Dugi Otok, Croatia

For lunch on the first day, we anchored Sally (above) near an island. After our picnic and beer on board, we swam in the clear, warm waters, marvelling at how far down we could see and enjoying following the fish with the goggles. At one point we both looked up. "Does Sally seem to be moving away?" I put my head down and swam after her. Sure enough, the anchor was being dragged along the sandy bottom far down and Sally was swishing away with the current. I got hold of her and we pulled her into shallower waters. We needed to get better at anchoring. 

Once we had clambered back into the boat (not for ladies, it’s truly ungraceful) we decided to go round the island and dry off en route, then anchor again and grease up with sunscreen. This we did. Except when I went to pull up the anchor, I couldn’t. Captain Maria (I was deck hand) came to help. It wouldn’t budge. We had suddenly become anchor experts. 

The island of spectacular swims and
an anchor situation
At this point, there was still no need to panic. At least we were safely stuck and not drifting out in the open ocean without fuel. We tried revving Sally to the max in all directions to budge the anchor, but power wasn’t one of her strong points and we got nowhere. So, I donned goggles and jumped in to have a look.

It was choppier on this side of the island and I couldn’t see all the way down, so I decided to have a go at following the rope and diving. One deep breath and down I went. The goggles filled up. And it wasn’t such a deep breath. I got so far before coming up. But I had seen just three arms of the anchor: surely if we shot Sally in that direction it would definitely budge?

It didn’t. The sun was still high in the bright blue sky. This anchor situation wasn’t a problem. We had options:
  • ·       Keeping diving until we got the anchor free
  • ·       Wave at another boat so they could do the same to free it
  • ·       Cut the anchor rope (we would never hear the end of it from Branco)
  • ·       Call Branco (we would never hear the end of it from Branco)
So, I decided to have another go. Long deep breaths; last one; and down. I got further this time, tugged the rope, ran out of air and went up swallowing the ocean. “There’s nothing holding it down! I can see all four arms!” We had no idea what was going on down there. 

I clambered back in the boat with seawater rushing out of my nostrils. “OK. I'll have a go,” said Maria, getting the goggles off me. A couple of years ago we did a personal training session together at a pool with a guy who made us swim in all sorts of styles and do random lung enhancing exercises. We were very hungover and rubbish at the time. But it turns out Maria was paying attention. She might not be the most elegant of swimmers, but when it comes to diving, she’s got it covered. She filled up her lungs and dove down. I watched her fade into the wobbly blueness. And then the rope was loose. She came back with our anchor! “Drop it before you sink!” I shouted, pulling the rope. It had been 5-6 metres down. Go Maria!

Back in the boat, all we could do was smile and laugh to ourselves. We were saved. The anchor didn’t sink us! And, more importantly, Branco would never know! As Sally took us back to our island past a seagull colony and other green islets we took a look at the clouds high above the mainland in the distance.

“Look at those clouds. Don't they say something?”
“They do. They say LIVE.”

And we sure know how to do that.

Learning: Sometimes the one thing you need to rescue you is right in the boat with you.
Surprise: Anchors really work. 

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