Game On

Board meetings can be ‘bored’ meetings, if you know what I mean. After all, for how long can you take in numbers, facts and self laudatory statements without letting out a well deserved but discreet yawn? I am a big picture guy. I see the picture, dispense with my advice and instructions, then move on to the next thing. And on this occasion, whale watching was on my mind.

After a quick round of cocktails and some more jovial congratulatory backslapping with the boys, I was on the chopper headed out to my boat anchored just off Durban.  My boat, as you know by now, follows me wherever I go and I find that very convenient. It’s good to slip in a few days of playtime amid more ‘bored’ meetings.

Between  sips of a superb 2003 Moreson Magia, South Africa’s finest red, I flicked through the pages of a whale watching guide, picking up tips and locations and do’s and don’ts. A robust barbeque dinner then lulled me into a just sleep. I was looking forward to tomorrow.

Nothing quite beats the feeling of standing on a rolling boat staring at the blue sky in anticipation of a great sighting. The air was hot and humid and I was suitably armed for whale watching – a pair of binoculars, a hat, sunscreen and patience.

Suddenly I spot a huge curl of water being blown into the air and there it is – one of the water world’s greatest creatures, the whale. It’s a sensational feeling, I am exhilarated. I quickly refer to the guide and discover it’s a Humpback. Then the sea explodes with huge curls of water and more surface. I am treated to spectacular displays of raw power as well as elegant water acrobatics. I jump up in delight.

“It seems to be your lucky day sir” the captain chipped in. I agreed with him. “Why don’t you take the kayak out and get a closer look” he said, adding “it’s safe if you keep a comfortable distance”. I like good suggestions and am always game for a challenge.

“A kayak on a calm sea is cinch” I say to myself as I paddle closer. As I inch nearer to the “safe distance”, all sorts of doubts cross my mind though. Most of my thoughts begin with “What if…?” and the scenarios that follow. But being the brave one, especially when the crew is observing my every move, I brush them aside and take in the spectacle.

A Southern Right surfaces here, playfully thumping its tail into another. A Humpback cavorts there. I feel the spray of the water as another whale surfaces close by, making my kayak roll furiously, almost throwing me off balance. But I recover my poise and continue smiling at the awesome sight around me.

All of a sudden, the silence is broken by a shrill whistle like sound, followed by a whoosh that seemed close, and a splash. For some strange reason I am reminded of war movies and bombs falling. I shrug off another “What if…” moment.

A little while later I hear that whistling sound again. I look up and around, trying to spot the object that’s making the sound, then hear the whoosh and the splash.

Questions rush through my mind. Are we being bombed? Has a war broken out? Is some new weapon of mass destruction being tested? Am I in the middle of a terrorist attack?  Should I be fleeing?

An unknown enemy is even more dangerous and even the crew seems to have noticed this. I can see binoculars aimed at the sky.

There it is again. Whistle, whoosh, splash. The whales seem not to notice these strange goings on until I hear a slightly different sequence of sounds.

The whistle was there. And so was the whoosh. But the splash was replaced by a dull ‘thud’.

A whale had been hit.

I quickly snap my head in the direction of the whale just in time to see a white and round object roll off its wet back. The whale roars up and displays its displeasure. When it lands back in the water, the splash is so huge, it sends shock waves rolling my way and the kayak almost flips over and my oar has somehow freed itself from my hands.

Looking at the oar bob away from me was inspiring, as I wanted to get away too. My hands were a poor substitute for oars though. And I seemed to be drawn into the thick of the action. I can tell you right then that my heart and soul was safely back on deck but my body continued to float dangerously close to these giant behemoths.

Whistle. Whoosh. Thud. Another direct hit.

It’s the Humpback’s turn to get angry. It surfaces within five feet of me, carrying me up and out of the water in an arc, then plunging me into the sea head first. I close my eyes in complete terror.

When I open my eyes again, I am still underwater. And in the clear waters of The Cape, I can see a giant tail coming towards me rapidly. I take evasive action, and in the process find myself separated from the kayak.

Surrounded by angry whales surfacing around me, there was only one thing left for me to do. And pray I did. Isn’t it strange that one remembers God only when the times are bad? I guess God must be noticing these things and he deliberately left me out there, helpless and at the mercy of his great creatures, to rue the fact that I didn’t remember him more often.

And then I could hear it again. The ‘whistling’ seemed louder. The ‘whoosh’ seemed closer. And this time, I felt the ‘thud’.

With an ice pack on my head, wrapped in a blanket, and nursing a stiff shot of Courvoisier XO, the captain filled me in on the blank time after the ‘thud’.

It seemed I had been hit with – and you’re not going to believe this – a cricket ball. A cricket ball? There was a Twenty20 world championship game on in Durban and some cricketers in light blue costumes were giving the balls a whack. And one young gun had whacked six out of the stadium.

Well now you know where the balls landed. Ouch!

India Boating, November ’07


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