Thursday, April 05, 2007

Long Afloat on Shipless Oceans...

Bob has come up with a new nickname for me. It's not the prettiest, but it has a certain ring to it if you say my name in full. Cotad. In fact, that should really read C.O.T.A.D. It stands for Completely Oblivious To All Danger. Yes, that's me.

It was a glorious, sunny, blue-skied day on Monday when my friend L and I tramped our way to the inflatables shop on Hove sea-front to get my forlorn and pumpless dinghy blown up. There was a light breeze, but the sun was hot and the sea looked like it was begging us to dip our toes in.

This was the first outing of Her Ladyship since my failed attempt last week with G due to torn pump rubber and inadequate gaffer tape. As the owner dragged the now fully inflated dinghy from his shop, he creased his ruddy face and asked "Are you sure you'll be alright going out in these conditions? There's a strong wind out there today."

"Nah, no problem" we both replied.

As we excitedly dragged my great blue and yellow wonder away from the beach balls and plastic windmills, his wife reiterated "You sure you'll be ok?"

Blimey, I thought, these sea-front people can be so over cautious.

Rather than leave our stuff on the beach, we decided to bring it with us. We piled it all into one huge plastic bag, and, somewhat stylishly and effortlessly, manoeuvred both ourselves and the bag into the dinghy and set off from the shore.

I love leaving Brighton behind. My favourite thing about going out in the dinghy is that I can watch the shoreline shrinking, the noise and the hassle of the city slowly drifting away. Brighton and Hove look so beautiful from out there. They stand wrapped in silence, with only the sound of lapping waves, or a gull overhead to interrupt the feeling of endless emptiness and space. In the sunshine, the city looks like it's made of gold.

I relaxed while L rowed. I had only recently found out that he is as much of a dinghy fanatic as myself, and, the experience of finding this out had been not unlike discovering that your friend is a member of the same secret, subversive society as you. We discussed our passion for the inflatable vessel over pear cider last week, agreeing how it is so much more than a crap blown-up toy which people muck about in when they go on holiday. No, it is much more spiritual than that, much more mysterious, esoteric and radical. I have long known that there are those who understand the full implications of The Way Of The Dinghy, and those who dismiss it as merely childish, silly or uncool. Such lost souls, one can only feel sorry for.

Anyway, it got a bit nippy, but thanks to the vast array of clothes we had packed into the boat, I wrapped up in a jumper. L started to look somewhat puzzled. Even though we hadn't actually tried to row further out to sea, we seemed to suddenly be rather far out, and since there were no yellow buoys out to give us any perspective, it was hard to determine exactly whether it was too far. L was concerned and so began rowing back towards the shore. After ten minutes, his puzzlement had turned to a grimace.

"No matter how much I row, I'm not actually moving anywhere" he uttered, frowning. I thought it was best for me to look concerned as well, so he didn't feel alone in his panic, and didn't notice how much I thought he was overreacting.

"Let me try," I said.

"No" came the prompt, stressed answer. He carried on rowing. At that point I turned to survey the shoreline. We hadn't moved one metre in ten minutes.

I took an oar. We both started rowing, I put my whole body into it. After a few minutes I looked again and slowly the shoreline was looking a little closer, not much, but a little. We carried on, my arms began to ache, and finally we reached a place where it felt comfortable enough to take a breather. Phew.

Our spirits returned in the knowledge that we were out of immediate danger. L suggested that I turn around so that we were both facing the same way, so that we could put more power into it. Now, turning round in a dinghy isn't the easiest of tasks, and I had just clumsily managed the maneouver and grabbed the oar when I spotted a boat heading towards us. I panicked for a moment that it might crash right into us, then, to my relief, and then my horror, I realised that it wasn't a speedboat, but a lifeboat, and it wasn't simply heading in the same direction as us, it was heading for us.

Suddenly, L cried "Run for it!" Looking back on it, this wasn't the cleverest of things to shout in the circumstances, firstly because one can't really 'run for it' in a dinghy, and secondly, if one isn't to take the wording too literally, even then, trying to out-row a large engine powered lifeboat with a small inflatable dinghy, is quite unlikely. Nevertheless, I promptly grabbed the oar and we flailed around attempting to flee the oncoming boat.

"We've had a distress call about a blue and yellow dinghy!" came the loudspeakered voice.

Now, following this announcement, came the second utterance that makes no sense in hindsight, but when faced by potential utter humiliation and embarrassment, one is driven to say somewhat stupid things.

I shouted back "Oh, that's not us, I think it's that dinghy over there", as I pointed to a speck on the horizon which I didn't even know what kind of sailing vessel it was. "We're fine!" I proclaimed as a helicopter flew overhead, and stopped precisely above us, hovering like an annoying fly.

"No, it is you" came the quick reply as the helicopter continued to buzz above us. L muttered expletives under his breath.

"No, we're really fine" he echoed, "we're just making our way back to shore now".

"We'll tow you back" came the loudspeaker.

We looked at each other. No fucking way. We'd both rather drown trying than have the humiliation of dangling off the back of the RNLI all the way back to shore. We waved our oars around and tried to look effective and competent. Unfortunately, I had only just swivelled into my new position in the dinghy and hadn't yet got a grasp of how to use the oar from this position. We sped round in circles.

"Are you sure you don't want our help?" came the now sniggering voice.

"No," shouted back L in an attempted air of confidence. "We're very British you know, very proud".

They stood there watching us, tailing every slow and self-conscious stroke of our pained journey back to shore, the sound of our rowing echoed by their laughter. At least the sodding rescue helicopter cleared off.

Finally, we arrived, wobbly handed at the beach, managed to get ourselves and our belongings out of the dinghy and up on shore.

"Bet they're still laughing at us" L said with a scowl as we waved at them and they finally sped off.

We laid out the blanket. The sheer humiliation of the experience was potent fuel for laughter. We cracked up. Suddenly, I spotted two coastguards approaching us. "Are you the owners of this blue and yellow dinghy?" one of them asked. Here we go again, I thought.

They were very nice about it all, considering. Again, don't ask me why, but I tried to convince them that there must have been a mistake.

"There was another dinghy out there" I told one of them. "I think maybe it was that that was in trouble."

"No," he responded " that was a man in a kayak who was actually on his way out to you both to see if you needed assistance. We received three alerts about you from members of the public."

Shit. We apologised profusely for the fuss we had caused.

"I'll have to take down your names and addresses."

I imagined myself on some Dinghy black-list.

"It's for our records only. Any further out, and you two'd not have made it back".

So there we have it. COTAD. Completely Oblivious To All Danger. I still couldn't really accept that maybe we had lost a bit of control of the dinghy out there until I told a friend the story the other night. Whilst giggling at the hilariousness of it all, I looked back at her, and noticed that she wasn't smiling.

"I might never have seen you and L again," she cried, "I'd have turned up for Writers' Group and someone would say 'Oh, they're not coming. They drowned in Clare's inflatable dinghy yesterday."

I guess that's the thing with the sea. Like life, you never can quite tell which way the currents are pulling. They look like they're going one way, and then suddenly you realise they're going in quite another. It's all a question of navigation, strong arms and not letting yourself get carried out too far.

When the coastguards had finally left, the sun was getting so hot I could feel my face burning. I lay in a semi-sleepy state, basking in the rays. "We'll probably find ourselves on the Government's terrorist suspect list now" L surmised as he got out his crayons and pad.

"Yeah," I agreed. "CID will be tapping our phones". I wondered what the time was, as I had lost complete track of it in all the drama. I sat up.

"Are you drawing the sea?" I asked him.

I leaned over his pad. And there she was, in blue and yellow. My Rapid 4000 who had got us home. The best dinghy in the world.


laurel said...

COTAD. completely fits you!

"It's all a question of navigation, strong arms and not letting yourself get carried out too far."

words to live by.

beautiful, brave, outrageous made wonderful pictures in my head..on such a worn ragged day across the pond. Appreciate it. Lovely writing :)

Rachel Phillips said...

LOL! That sounds like the day in marina del rey that my cousin and I decided to take a canoe out into the marina. We both took an oar and literally for about 15 minutes were rowing and rowing and rowing when suddenly I realized we hadn't even cleared the dock but a couple of feet! We had been rowing against eachother the whole time! It became like a physics problem to figure out which direction we should both be pulling (they don't call us genetically compromised for no reason!) Anyway, lovely writing... enjoyed it immensely. LOL! and the word verification is cdummjb (cmon you dumb jibber!) GREAT. LOL!

Olivia said...

I've now heard this story from The Other Side. From those brave lifeboat men themselves. One of whom was baking biscuits when the distress call came in. And did he stop to wash the dough off his hands? Did he heck. He just leapt on his motorbike and whizzed down to the marina, ready to save some lives.

The cookie dough in his motorbike gloves? It's still there. Perhaps a formal letter of apology is in order, Miss Cotad?


clare said...

Ms O: Oh no no no no no!! You're joking..?

Ms Laurel: thanks for your warm lovely words (though I'm not sure how I feel about perfectly fitting the name COTAD!). How's life? Love to you ..

Ms Phillips: Yes, there's certainly an art to rowing. In my own and my friend's defence, however, I thought we did a pretty sterling job all things considered (I am now suffering from guilt at knowing one of the lifeguards had to leave his baking cookies behind for us and thus I feel much more need to justify myself!).

Nice to hear from you ;)

Rosie said...

Glad you and L survived ! Love you're writing but please be more are very precious..


Olivia said...

I'm not joking, no.

Cookie dough.

In motorcycle gloves.

They are selfless, those men. Selfless.

Jonathan said...

This is the best story I have read in I don't know how long. I have a Rime Of The Ancient Mariner thing going on at the moment, and it reminds me of that...