PART 1 – MY VERY OWN BOAT
As part of the holiday package, the resort offered a romantic boat trip to a deserted island for the day. There was even talk of a complimentary bottle of champagne. We were on the picturesque Greek island of Skiathos. The idea of being ferryed over to one of the tiny islands, away from the prolls, also afforded me the opportunity to do 2 things about which I was very excited: drink and smoke on a boat in the sunshine and pretend to be a castaway without any of the actual hardship.
I like boats. I like being on a boat. Actually, I only like being on a boat where I can see the land, with the sun shining, and the sea particularly calm. That open water madness, where you can’t see any land in any direction, gives me the boke. The sea is a capricious beast. It is also wants us all dead for trespassing on and in it. It is a living, breathing, violent sonofabitch, and you shouldn’t trust it, because it is also a liar.
That said, there is nothing that isn’t made instantly better by being on a boat (safely moored within sight of land). Parties for example. Much better on a big boat. Jay-Z could have shot his Big Pimpin’ video on land and it would have been fine. But he’s Jay-Z, and knew everyone wants to go to a party on a big boat in the sunshine. Regular folk like you and me don’t get to go to boat parties.
I know very little about boats. I am a city dweller with a well documented fear of the sea. I have no desire to be on one of the boats on which you have to actively work to make it go. You know the type, the ones that use ancient viking wind technology to get anywhere, while there are engines to be had, and it’s now the future.
Boat Man: Hoist the main jib, jiggle the aft spiggot, push the rickety wooden things…
Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t come here to work. I came here to drink Bloody Marys, smoke, perhaps wear a hat I’d never wear on land, and pretend to be rich. In fact, I just want to float, let’s not go anywhere. Stop all this frantic running around. And no I don’t want to know what starboard and whatever the other one means. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be at the front of the boat getting my Titanic on.
So you could say that my knowledge of boats is less textbooks and more comics. But I was happy when our “Boat Man” came to collect us from our hotel to bring us on our adventure, because all I had to do was drink my champagne and enjoy the placid, inviting and sharkless Aagean Sea.
As with most things, I was very wrong.
My Uh-Oh radar began to ping when we met the Boat Man. He was a stranger to smiles, spoke hardly any English, and he gave the impression we had disturbed him in the middle of doing his favourite thing (possibly simply scowling at the sea). His pickup truck had his personality and comfort, and we drove to the beach in realative silence.
We arrived at a popular beach, and followed him to the edge of the water where he showed us our boat; a little speedboat with an outboard motor. Enough space for about 4 people. From the beach you could see several islands and the day was looking good.
The Boat Man began to bark at me, pointing at various bits on the boat, tugging things, shaking others, making the universal “under no circumstances” gesture at several times. I was not paying attention. Again, I’m here to be ferryed around, Sir. I trust you have this all in the bag. You look like you’re actually married to a boat. But still the instructions came. They were only directed at me, and not at my lady companion, J.
He then moved onto the outboard motor, motioning for me to pull it into the boat and then back into the water. He scolded me for being weak, as it was hard to lift the motor, and I am weak. Whatever dude, you can handle this bit. We brought champagne in the bag, and I have every intention of drinking on this boat.
All of this instruction was happening primarily in Greek, except for his final word to me when he was finished talking. He stood up, looked at me and asked “Ok?”. I said, “Sure. Whatever…” Then he handed me the keys, pointed at the 6 on his watch, and gestured towards the beach hut where the other boats were. Then he walked away and left us standing with our new boat.
I was now in charge of an actual boat, to do with as I peased. What followed was nervious laughter, incredulous laughter, fearful laughter and “ah sure fuck it what could go wrong” laughter. We pushed the boat into the water, pointed it at an island and pressed the make-boat-go-now button.
I learned quickly that what looks like a calm sea from the shore, is not quite as calm when speeding across the little waves on a rickety ass tourist speed boat. I also learned that wind makes it very difficult to smoke a cigarette at high speed. But it’s not impossible.
The islands were quite rocky, and seeing no obvious place to park the boat we opted to go to one of the islands with a large sandy beach, which was actually full of people, and their boats. Better safe than sorry. These people knew what they were doing (perhaps they knew the other islands were haunted) so we went along with the crowd. Also I was scared. Fair enough.
I drove the boat into waist high water, to allow J to get off the boat with all of our stuff and get to the beach. My plan was I would take the boat out a bit, throw down the anchor and swim back to shore. Simple. What could be easier?
Within 15 minutes I would find myself close to tears with rage, punching the water, the boat, and honestly contemplating either drowning myself or simply running away and living as a feral hobo on one of the haunted islands.
You see, there were lots of boats close to the beach…
PART 2 – BOAT PARKING RAGE & A SAILOR ANGEL
To this day I don’t remember if I managed to turn the boat around or whether I reversed away from the beach. I honestly still don’t know if boats even have a reverse gear. Regardless, I soon found myself in deeper water surrounded by many boats of varying sizes, all parked (again, I’m sure there’s a stupid boat term for parking a boat, but I refuse to learn it).
The larger boats were populated by groups of locals, drinking, eating and having a good time. It is important to point out these were locals, because Greek people are a special kind of people. And I mean this is the best possible way. They are like Italians, only more so. They are loud and passionate. They are serious about food and family, and know how to enjoy themselves. They are also no strangers to gesticulating and shouting to get their point across, particularly when faced with a language barrier. Say, for example, when a gobshite Irishman is about to crash into their boat.
You see, even if you cut off the engine, the bastard sea will carry your vessel in a direction of its choosing. I had stopped amidst the floating mess of boats, and was looking for the anchor, when all of a sudden there was shouting. One voice at first, and then several more. I looked up to notice that I was floating helplessly towards a larger boat. Although they were shouting in Greek, I could tell that their message was less “excuse me, your boat is perilously close to injuring both of our vessels” and more “OOHHHH, The fuck is this?!?! You scratch our boat, and we cut you!”
I apologised and turned on the engine to move to a new spot. I could still force a smile, and was still, at this point, enjoying my adventure. I slalomed through a few boats on my way to a new spot, and as I got close, more shouts. A different boat full of angry Greeks screaming abuse at me and pointing at the sea. What the fuck now?
Through shouts and points I realised they were telling me I was going to ruin the rope to which their anchor was tied. Why is your anchor so far away from your boat then, you bastards? Oh, so that’s just how that works? So now as well as not crashing into boats, I have to imagine where the fucking anchor rope is, which by the way is hidden underwater, even though I can’t actually see it? As I bid farewell to my latest shouting partners, I had no smile, and my inner anger monologue was beginning to lose it, and take over.
So I finally find another spot. Didn’t seem to piss anyone off getting to a small patch of water, now pretty far out from the beach. I picked up the rinky-dink anchor and tossed it into the water. The boat was still moving, Oh Christ. More shouting from the boat nearest to me: my anchor rope had become tangled up in their rope. FUCK. Lots of shouting. I know I know, I’m not a boat person and I can’t understand you. Fuck this. Right I’ll dive in and untangle the bastard thing.
I untangle the ropes and the man calms down in time to now point at my boat, which is of course drifting towards another boat. FUCK. So I swim with my anchor to my boat, climb aboard (much harder than it looks in the movies, It’s all arms) and try to find another place. I fucking hate boats. All these pricks seem to be able to park, but oh no, I’m not allowed here because of this guy’s boat, or that guy’s anchor. What about me? Jesus I hate boats.
Finally I find a spot that appears to have lots of space around it. It is quite close to a rocky outcrop that turns the beach into a sort of harbour on one side, or whatever, what the Hell do I know. It could have been a sea road. I stop as close to the rocks as I dare and I throw the anchor overboard, and wait to make sure it’s secure (what do I know from anchors and how they work…) The boat keeps drifting. Towards the rocks.
About a metre away from the rocks, I am now panicking, and borderline psychotic. I’m screaming at the boat, cursing the sea, and shouting, from a frothing mouth through gritted teeth, at the rocks as I shake my fist at them. I have become an unhinged lunatic and I don’t care what it looks like.
I don’t know why I didn’t just turn on the boat and try to move away. I figure all the anger clouded my judgement, and so instead I jumped into the water to try and put myself in between the rocks and the boat. Not only did I cut my foot badly on the rocks, but the waves were stronger than anticpated (who’d a thought the sea would be stronger than me?) pushing the boat into me and there was no pushing it away.
I snapped. I started to roar, curse God’s name, Posideon, boats, my life up to this point, and that grumpy fucker who gave me this death trap in the first place. I thought about dumping the boat, catching a ride back to our island and running away. I was punching the boat, the frustration and anger had shut down all rational thoughts, and every fibre of my being was simply screaming curses, and wanting to see the whole world burn.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man begin to wade into the water. He seemed to be staring straight at me. He was a man. Like a proper man. Perhaps late 50s early 60s, short and stocky. He was well tanned and had a lot of faded old school tattoos. Basically he looked like he could probably drink you under the table then beat up the rest of the bar. And the bar itself. Picture the toughest old guy you can think of. That’s him.
He kept coming towards me, swimming now, making a beline for my boat. He said, in an English accent, “Having some trouble?” It’s doubtful I said anything, because I was about to cry, because I at that point I thought he was Posiedon himself, come to stop me drowning myself because I couldn’t park a fucking boat.
He took the anchor rope, and swam away from the rocks, dragging the boat behind him. I shit you not. When he got to a safe space, he explained that because the sea bed was mostly just sand, you needed to pile rocks on top of the anchor to ensure the boat stays in place. He said we had to dive to find rocks to use. I let him dive, and I pretended to, because I was worried I would pick up a rock that was a sea spider’s house and I’d have a stroke.
When the boat was secure we swam to shore. I thanked Captain Hero profusely and wondered what his history was with boats; 30 years in the merchant navy. What are the odds.
I went and found J and explained the whole ordeal. She had the champagne and a few plastic cups, so we poured my hero and his wife a glass each and drank with them, and made a toast to the sailor to whom I now owe my life.
Boats can go fuck themselves.