Tuesday, 9 November 2010

That Sinking Feeling

In 1996 my friend Dave had two kayaks and we decided to take them to Lake Windermere along with our then girlfriends. We had oars but that was it for equipment. No splash decks to keep the water from getting into the kayaks and no lifejackets or helmets.

It was a beautiful summers day and Ambleside was swarming with visitors and many of them viewed the ensuing events with a mixture of humour, fascination horror and relief.

Dave had first go with his girlfriend and me and, the now Mrs S, stayed ashore being attacked by swans.

When it was our turn, it turned out that Mrs S wasn't a seasoned mariner but she found it easy to paddle round in circles but that was about it. After a while bumping into private yachts (there was one called Tintin that I'm sure she put a dint in) I towed her back to shore.

Dave had the bright idea of going to the other side of the lake to do lake jumping so it was decided that he and me would paddle whilst our respective partners would ride pillion (You can see where this is going already can't you).

I set off quite well with Mrs S sat on (not in) the Kayak. I looked round and saw my friend struggling to get going so I decided to slow down and wait for him. Mistake. I lost my momentum and couldn’t get myself going again as my mate flashed past us. At this point Ashley decided to sit a bit further back on the kayak and the water started to lap into the vessel.

At this point I made the heroic decision to tell Ashley to jump off the Kayak or we would sink. She wouldn't jump off. We sank.

Actually we capsized. I was under an upturned vessel facing downwards. And without any chance of doing an Eskimo roll. After what seemed like ten minutes but was probably seconds I eventually emerged from the kayak and got to the surface shouting for Mrs S. I was both relieved and disappointed to hear her voice panicky but shouting "Where is the paddle? Dave will kill us if we loose the paddle".

The kayak was floating on the mere with hint of a grin on it’s upturned hull. Mrs S and I eventually locked eyes over a shipwreck of a situation and agreed (or at least I did) that she should have jumped off so that she could have had a tow to the shoreline.

We righted the boat, but there was too much water inside to contemplate climbing back in, so we agreed that we would put the paddle in the kayak and push it back to safety. At no time did we yell for help in the middle of the biggest body of water in England. It didn’t even occur to us.

Another thing that didn’t occur to us was that our escapade wouldn’t go unnoticed. After we had ascertained the shortest route back to dry land and started off on our journey we suddenly became aware of what can only be described as an aircraft carrier sized private yacht. Luckily it wasn’t Tintin returning to snigger at our misfortune, but a nice man, who resembled Mr Muscle, who offered to take us back to safety. We would however, have to leave the kayak at the mercy of Neptune. I thanked him and told Mrs S that she should get on board and make her way back to sanity. I would persevere and bring the boat back though. She duly did and she clambered onto the steps of the launch and I could hear Mr Muscle bemoaning the youth of today who misuse the lake with no respect for nature not taking the correct safety precautions etc etc.

I felt quite serene at that moment. Yes, I suppose I was still in mortal danger. My physical prowess wasn’t that of an Olympic athlete or Premiership footballer (or Sunday League footballer for that matter) but I wasn’t at all scared. I had something to hold onto that would keep me afloat. I was happy to take my time. The sun was shinning and the only sounds I could hear were the sounds of people playing in the distance (or was that pointing and screaming “Rescue him”?)

Then another sound came into my auditory periphery. It was a chugging of a small outboard motor. It turned out it was fitted onto a sturdy, but by no means new, wooden dinghy. In the dinghy were three members of the cast of Baywatch. And non of them resembled David Hasslehoff in the slightest. The Bikini clad angels pulled up next to me and suggested that I should get in the boat with them.

Being the honourable gentleman that I am I decided that I should cling onto the side of their craft whilst keeping a grip on the kayak. So that is what happened. I was slightly too embarrassed to strike up much of a conversation and I was getting nearer to a reunion with my dripping fiancĂ©e. I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and as soon as I could stand up in the water, I thanked them profusely for their kindness and pulled the offending piece of fibre glass to a stone  filled shoreline and hugged Mrs S for what seemed like an eternity.

Dave had seen what was going on and after depositing his girlfriend at the agreed rendezvous point, he returned to where we had landed to ask after our welfare. He then took the kayak with him to his girlfriend on the opposite side of the lake where they continued to jump into the lake from big rocks.

The glorious sunshine soon dried the clothes we were wearing and we were able to go t o a local hostelry to watch England beat Spain on penalties to progress to the semi finals of Euro 96. All in all, quite a memorable day.

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