Friday, October 27, 2006

It isn't that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better

Pah, Francis Drake, what did he know about it??

Me on the other hand, I'm now a fully fledged member of the nautical community. Mind you, this elevation doesn't come easily. Oh no, you live and learn every time you go out on the Briny.

So what allows me to speak with such authority? Well, I'm now the proud owner (well loaner really ) of a boat, following an incredibly generous offer from a colleague's partner - something along the lines of "Here take mine". Never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth (being sensibly scared of getting anywhere near the flickering eyes and yellow teeth of such animals), I gratefully accepted the offer. After all, it would be rude to refuse and how hard can it be to drive a boat?

Hmm, well a little bit harder than you might first imagine!

Now being honest, the driving of them (or should one say skippering?) isn't really that difficult. You turn the key and off you go. In fact, it's the bit before you set off and the bit after you get back that are the REALLY hard bits. First of all, there's the reversing it down the boat ramp without dropping it off the side or submerging the car. For those that have never reversed a trailer before, it's a bit like rubbing your stomach and patting your head. You can learn to do it in time, but generally some people are just born with the ability. In fact I think it's a gene passed from Kiwi male to Kiwi male. For the rest of us, it's an activity designed solely for the amusement of others.

Not deterred, I was hell-bent on trying it. I mean, how hard can it be? You just turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction to the one you want the boat trailer to go.....don't you?

So I stationed my mate (we'll call him Jimmy) within sight at the back, so that he could guide me and I set off slowly. Now Jimmy is a decent fella - after all, it was his 4x4 we were using to tow the borrowed boat (I know, I might look stupid but...) - and in the true way of all loyal mates, he turned to the nearest disinterested bystanders and attracted their unwavering and undivided attention to the forthcoming entertainment with the words "It's his first time!"

Having ensured that we now had the full attention of all present, I inched backwards down the ramp, turning the wheel slightly to the right, to account for the slight curve to the left of the boat ramp. Having quickly got the boat at right angles to the car, I then drove forward to straighten up. Start again.....and the same thing happened!! Lesson 1 - even the slightest touch of the steering wheel slews the trailer in the opposite direction!

After only four attempts I managed to get the boat down the ramp and into the water.....and nobody applauded!!!

So off we set for an enjoyable day's fishing.

Now it was a little rough, so we didn't go far and anchored out in the bay. The boat was pitching a little but nothing too serious. And then I learnt my next lesson. NEVER, EVER kneel down in a pitching boat, because when you do, the pitching suddenly becomes a WHOLE lot worse (even writing this I can feel the bile rising again!). After about 30 minutes rocking and wallowing, we decided enough was enough and it was time to 'weigh anchor'. It was only at this point we realised the anchor was fouled and, stuck fast, it 'weighed" a bloody tonne!. With Jimmy facing out of the hatchway at the front of the boat trying to pull up the rope, we began hitting every wave head on as we fought to get the damn thing up - me by driving the boat over the anchor line and him by hauling on the rope (at one point I think I saw the palm of his hands smoking!). Now I was a little scared at the thought of being stuck forever out there and have to admit I was very chuffed to be skipper, responsible for the boat, rather than the other bloke sat out on the front of the boat facing the rising sea and getting drenched with every wave. We finally got the anchor up and, as with most instances where the danger suddenly disappears, had a good laugh and a celebratory beer.

Somewhat relieved, we decided to have a little bimble about round the headland. As soon as we turned the corner, the sea was flat calm!!!

The sequel to this story came last weekend, when we took the boat out again, this time with our kids on board. Being a bit wiser this time, and noticing the number of people about, I let Jimmy drive down the ramp - he's a Kiwi you see, so was born with the trailer reversing gene and can make any boat ramp look 30ft wide. And as you might expect, our departure was a relatively unamusing and uninspiring affair. We spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon buggering about on the water, fishing, drinking beer, peeing in buckets and all the other things you'd associate with a blokes' fishing trip. Well, when I say fishing trip, Captain Birdseye we weren't. We caught a few but none were big enough to keep....except one snapper, which was a couple of millimetres over the legal 27cm. Obviously, we couldn't go home completely empty handed, so he went in the bucket and we set off back.

By this time, confidence was high and we cruised gently towards the beach, in a dead line with the boatramp, a bit like Nelson and Hardy (but without the kissing of course!). Now for some reason, the beach was particularly busy (could word of the previous week's antics have spread so far already??). Having judged we had about 1/2 metre of depth before we grounded, my fellow gallant matelot and I made preparations for the ceremonial disembarkation - he's supposed to jump off first and hold the boat, I kill the engine and then follow him overboard, so that he can leg it up the beach for the car and trailer, whilst I stop the borrowed boat washing down the beach and against the rocks.

Unfortunately, it didn't go quite according to plan - a wave caught us just as Jimmy's about to go over the side....and he went slightly faster and a little less gracefully than he intended. Soaked to the neck, he quickly scarpers pretending nonchalantly to the gathered crowd on the beach that nothing untoward had happened - judging by the faces, his performance wasn't too convincing and his sopping wet clothes clearly indicated a lack of intention! Barely able to hold my bladder for laughing, I followed him over (more gracefully) and hung onto the boat, waist deep in water, whilst the kids were under instructions to sit still as I fought the waves (which I was hoping "were fiddlin' and small", but weren't).

After what seemed like ages, I could see my buddy scrabbling about up near the car. Cursing, I turned to my son and growled "I can't believe that daft bugger's getting his dry clothes on whilst I'm struggling here."

Then my youngest starts crying - she wants to go home and doesn't like the boat rocking in the waves......then my mates daughter delivers the words that strike fear into anyone in such a situation........"I need the toilet!"

Just then Jimmy sets off back down the beach towards us. It was at this point, I learnt another lesson - car keys aren't waterproof!!!

"Mate, we've got a real problem" he says. "The keys got wet and the immobiliser's buggered!"

So there we were, a 15ft boat, no trailer, no car, one child reliving the Titanic experience, another performing the bladder dance complete with facial contortions, and half of the local population loving every minute!

Fortunately, we had mobile phones with us (carefully stored in waterproof bags I might add!!) so we phoned Mrs C, and told her to bring my car down to tow us off bloody quickly.

Now at some point during this, I noticed the two blokes in official overalls up in the car park - FISHERIES OFFICERS!!! These guys take your boat, your car and all your kit if they catch you with undersized fish, or so I'd been told by every Death or Glory Kiwi fisherman I'd ever met. And by this point, I'm convinced they thought I was spending hours in the water just to avoid them inspecting us for our one and only fish that was 27.5cm long!

Just then, Mrs C arrives with the car, so we get the trailer hitched up and The One With The Genes reverses it down the ramp - boat hooked up, winched out and we are ready to go. Being somewhat sodden, I suggested Jimmy (the drier of the two of us!!) drive up and I'd meet him at the top of the ramp. So, completely oblivious to the fact that my car is a 2.0l front wheel drive saloon, and not a 3.0 4x4, Jimmy guns the engine.....and buries the front end of my lovely car into the beach! Fortunately, a quick reverse, a lower gear selection and we get away with it.

So, at the top of the ramp, the Fisheries guy stops us, has a look over our catch (1 fish you'll recall - it didn't take long!) and gives us the thumbs up. Feeling brave, I questioned him as to whether the fish we had was borderline or not

"Nah, you're okay there. We're mostly after the fellas who take sackfuls of shellfish, or bags of undersized fish....besides, you fellas gave us such a laugh we had to let you off!!"