Sunday, May 21, 2006
Seasick, yet still docked
Yesterday morning we set out from Stanley to paddle round to Shek O in the OC6 (six person canoe). It wasn't a particularly nice day, and it was windy; when we passed Cape D'Aguilar, the waves were the biggest I'd ever paddled in. It was slightly scary, but we reached Shek O Back Beach, and had a Snickers bar each and shared a couple of bananas, and then set off back to Stanley.
The waves were on the ama side on the way back and I felt slightly nervous about flipping, but it was an experienced crew and J was there so I felt reassured. About 10 minutes out, the waves were high and unexpected and the inevitable happened: as if in slow motion, but in a nanosecond, we hulied, the boat flipped upside down and we all fell or jumped out.
When you huli, you get the boat back over as fast as possible and a couple of people jump in and bail. But our bailers weren't tied on and so two of them went straight to the bottom, leaving us with one. The waves were so big that one bailer wasn't enough to empty the boat and we quickly realised that we weren't going to be able to get back in. It was a horrible feeling having to get back in the water, and when we put our lifejackets on, it started to feel pretty serious. The water was still big, and we were a few hundred metres off Shek O main beach, so two of us got back on the upturned boat and tried to paddle, and the others swam alongside trying to guide the boat away from the rocks.
The only progress we were making was wherever the waves wanted to take us, which was in towards the beach but also towards the rocks, so after about 20 minutes of floating, we ended up firing a flare, which glowed a satisfying ultraneon firework pink which was seen from the beach and eventually a jet-ski came out to us.
As the weakest swimmer I knew I'd be a liability if I stayed but it was a wrench to leave the rest of the crew floating with the boat. I got on the rescue platform on the back to the jetski and the lifeguard crouched over me as I was pulled back to the beach. It was surreal arriving at the beach with people frolicking in the surf as if nothing was wrong, looking curiously at me as I emerged shakily from the water. The lifeguards were about to put the jetski away, and I had to play the angry gweilo and shout at them to get them to go back out - they were all shrugging their shoulders, having fulfilled their duty by calling the police. There was no sign of the police boat, though and I knew the crew would be hoping someone would come back, maybe even with rope to try to tow the boat in, so reluctantly they got back on and went out again.
I stood on the beach watching, wearing my lifejacket to keep warm, as people ran by me in bikinis, like a nightmare scenario where no one believes you that something is very wrong; but when the dull grey police ship appeared it seemed as though the whole ordeal was over.
I was brought a red blanket and stood on the beach like a refugee with family fun going on all around me, but nothing seemed to be happening and so I retreated to the lifeguards' station where I sat disconsolately with binoculars while the lifeguards smoked fags, chatted and stared at me. I was feeling sick as a dog and must have looked pretty bad, because they tried to look after me by buying me a bowl of noodles with a big fat fried egg on top.
It took the police nearly four hours to do nothing: it emerged that they had no idea how to tow the boat and I watched in disbelief as inertia seemed to set in. The other members of the crew, after a lot of faffing around, were transferred to the police boat and sat there for hours getting seasick; they had the worst of it and I was lucky to be on shore, though it felt pretty bleak at the time.
I was just starting to lose the will to live when a friendly face appeared on the beach below: L, who had been competing in an open water swimming race at the Back Beach, had been called by the crew from the police boat's phone and told to come and find me. She took me round to the Back Beach where everyone was hanging out and chilling to funky beats. In the meantime the crew had got fed up with the inertia of the police and called the Yacht Club who sent a boat round from Causeway Bay and got them all fixed up within ten minutes. We watched as they emerged round the corner with the OC6 bobbing disfunctionally behind the Yacht Club boat, and the remains of the crew jumped from the boat, which couldn't come right in. I went down to the shore to help them come in, still in their lifejackets, and pulling the wretched OC6 behind them on a rope.
I'm not very good in big water and am not a strong swimmer, and I am grateful beyond words that everyone else looked out for me. While we were floating in the waves, there was no panic, although clearly the situation could have been very dangerous; there was black humour - some one said "Thank goodness we had those Snickers bars" - and we joked about who would play us in the movie (Angelina Jolie, in case you're wondering). It was everything it could have been: calm, everyone looking out for everyone else. Teamwork and camaraderie are the reasons I paddle and yesterday we had that in spades.