Gone fishin’ (or not)

“What a lucky wench you are,” the Moonman comments. “Hanging out with an eligible bachelor like myself, enjoying the lifestyle… Beach house, boats of all shapes and sizes…”
“I’m just after your money, surely you know that,” I reply, fluttering my eyelids.


The good ship

He does have a point, but it’s not quite of Monaco playboy proportions. Just a touch more modest. Be that as it may, it is courtesy of my playboy that I can spend a weekend in the laid-back town of Langebaan on the West Coast. He is still out in the Arctic. He is a bit nervous, understandably, because I am here with three short people and two four-legged ones. Only one of the four-legged people is a Certified Visitor – the Lucky Dog comes here often and knows the drill. This time, we have brought an Uncertified Visitor: Suki from Kreefgat. It’s her first holiday abroad.


Suki from Kreefgat

As for the two-legged short people, I have brought my youngest offspring, and her two best friends. Ages 12, 10 and 9 – the Golden Years of Childhood. My offspring, as everyone knows, are known carriers of the Chaos Generating Gene, and the little friends, though unrelated, quite possibly have similar DNA. Hence the Moonman’s anxiety. He worries that we will trash the place. We’re treading very lightly, doing our utmost to NOT trash anything. We don’t want to prove him right, and mess up our chances of doing this again. And we love the Moonman and want him to be happy.

I decided that this little break would be good for writing, but the view here is terribly distracting. I can’t stop looking out the window, and my mind keeps getting transfixed by the picture – the lagoon is so blue it almost hurts, the greeny-grey strip of land on the other side is reflected in the water like a painting. Seagulls are wheeling in and out of view. The wind-chime is stirring in the breeze. And when the sun sets, it is downright impossible to work. (Not that writing can be considered work, but that’s another story.)

And, having brought along a whopping great historical novel, I know, deep down, that I’ll be appreciating someone else’s writing this weekend, rather than my own. Even just lying on the beach, resting my head on that novel, knowing I will have time to read it later, has given me a profound sense of wellbeing.
Inside the house right now, we have the happy noises of children playing Monopoly. We’re waiting for the winter sun to get just a little less fierce, then we’re hitting the beach. The dogs are both asleep, saving energy for the jol that lies ahead.

Yesterday we spent the most idyllic day on the beach, and I felt supremely, absurdly happy – and I’m not normally one for supreme happiness or idyllic days of sand, sea and sunshine.


An idyllic day at the beach

Don’t get me wrong, I love “nature” as an abstract idea, a backdrop, a setting. I am not that much of an outdoors person, and to complement this, I am not much of a do-er, either. I’m more of a watcher, a thinker, a rester. I like seeing “nature in all her splendour” when I look up from my book or my laptop. I love snoozing in the shade of a magnificent tree or sitting somewhere on a rock by the water, thinking… or not thinking. I’m just not the person who is out there actually climbing up the slopes of, or paddling across, the view. A view is for watching, and is best viewed from a distance – this is my philosophy.

In this way, I am vastly different from my parents. They are the intrepid explorers you can sometimes see with binoculars, hiking across a splendid view. But mostly, you won’t see them at all, because they try to get as far away as possible from other people, with or without binoculars. They are the mountain folk on a pilgrimage around the sacred Mount Kailas in Tibet, or walking bravely across the vast spaces of Terra del Fuego, just for fun. Backpacks, tents, weeks of eating rehydrated foods and using a spade for ablutions. I didn’t inherit that particular gene.

As children, we were taken to beautiful places like Reunion Island, Namibia, New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania, as well as many off-the-beaten-track local destinations… too many to even remember properly. This has been tremendously character building, as you can probably tell. I believe that these hikes instilled in me a deep appreciation of soft beds and running water, which I might otherwise never have learned. As a child, I must have enjoyed these trips, because I don’t remember not enjoying them (also, being Golden Aged, you can enjoy just about anything). Later years, though, I trudged, as reluctantly as only a thirteen year old can trudge, up and down winding footpaths, crossing the mountains and rain forests and glaciers of New Zealand, as befoeterd as it is humanly possible to be. So now, when I say that New Zealand is the most beautiful country, my mum exclaims, “But you were miserable and dikbek all the way!” I have to admit to them, then, that I did manage to sneak enough sidelong glances to take in the breathtaking beauty and store it in a part of my brain that survived teenagerdom. I just didn’t want them to have the satisfaction of seeing me admiring the view, or, heaven forbid, enjoying this terrible punishment.

As soon as I was of staying-home-alone age, I stayed home. And when I do go on holiday, I prefer to have running water and a bed.

My home life is filled with DOING, hustling, bustling, rushing. I have to do something all the time, and if I don’t, I either feel guilty or just fall behind with my work, or both. Being a rather uhhmmm… “passive” type of person, this means I experience quite a lot of activity overdose. For me, being on holiday means being in a different space – physically, mentally, spiritually. And that means, NOT doing very much. NOT having to get up early. NOT answering the phone. NOT buzzing around like a demented fly. NOT going to bed early just because I have to get up early. And especially NOT swimming if I don’t feel like it. I like swimming, but only when the water calls me in, and not before. And sometimes the water calls me just to look at it in silence and not disturb its surface by plunging into it. Kids just don’t get this.

On holiday, I generally prefer NOT to explore hidden valleys or follow the river upstream (or downstream), to see where it came from (or goes) or climb a mountain to see what’s on the other side. I like holiday places which have no historic sights, nature trails or guided adventures. A little cabin somewhere in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a very wet winter, armed with a tower of books and some sugary foods – that’s my fantasy holiday. (Children? What children? It’s my fantasy and I didn’t bring them.)

The Moonman is pretty much on the other end of the holiday personality spectrum. For him, being on holiday means doing as much as possible with his boys and his dogs and his favourite wench. And, very importantly, holidays are for being out on the water with his boat, his windsurfer, his canoe or any other flotation device.


The Lucky Dog

I know what you’re thinking: “Doesn’t he WORK on ships for weeks at a time?? Doesn’t he spend enough time on the water?!” The answer is a resounding “NO.” The Research Vessel Surveyor is not the good ship Sally. And scanning the ocean floor with high-tech toys is not sailing. (But still: “A bad day at sea is better than a good day at the office”. And, even asleep, he dreams only of boats, every single night. If his dreams didn’t feature any boats, I’d need to consider calling the people from the funny farm.)

As you can imagine, the two of us have had some serious philosophical discussions when on holiday together:
Moonman: “What would you all like to do today?”
Dynamo Boy (12): “I’d like to go sailing and fishing, then run around the koppie with the dogs, and then go windsurfing, and then go paddling on Bokkie and then to Friday Island for lunch. Then we can go looking for good waves, and do some surfing! And then come back for some more sailing and fishing after lunch and then go jay-boarding! And then fly the kite. I want to fly the model plane from the boat!”
Surfer Dude (14): “Surf.”
“Skootle, what would you like to do?”
They all look at me, expectantly. I hesitate.
“Some reading would be nice…”
“But you can read anywhere! You can read in your own house! Why bother coming all the way here just to read?”
“Well… reading is my favourite activity. And I never have time to read at home. And I enjoy reading even more when I’m in a beautiful spot.”
I can feel my argument fizzling out fast. The Moonman, on the other hand, knows he is right.
“Read the ocean, the wind, the clouds, the waves, the currents. Life is OUT THERE!” he almost shouts, pointing out the window. “ You don’t need books!”
“But it’s such a good book. It’s based on a true story!”

So we compromise: we go sailing and I read while the men folk fish. I am very fortunate that I don’t suffer from seasickness, and don’t have any trouble reading while lying in the bottom of a rock-and-rolling boat. Moonman observes, “You don’t enjoy fishing, but you do enjoy the fishing lifestyle.”


The fishin' lifestyle

I have to agree. Reading is as enjoyable on a boat as it is on a stoep. I stop now and then to take pictures. These mostly feature sky, clouds, the top of the mast, a seagull flying past, or my feet, crossed lazily on the side of the boat.

The first time the Moonman took me sailing on the good ship Sally, a 16-foot Saldanha dingy (google it), I had to learn fast. Captain Moonman is at the helm, operating the mainsail. First Mate Skootle is manning the jib. The Captain teaches me some basics: firstly, the Captain’s orders are final and no correspondence will be entered into. Then, port and starboard (for someone who struggles with left and right, this is a challenge!), how to balance the boat, how to check if the jib is pulled in hard enough, and all about “going about”. Especially going about. For all you poor deprived non-sailing souls, going about means turning the boat around by roughly 90 degrees, a manoeuvre during which the mainsail and its heavy boom come swinging across the boat. If you’re not paying attention to the Captain’s orders, you get knocked unconscious and/or overboard by the boom. Captain shouts, “Ready to go about!” and the crew (me) replies, “Ready!” Being on jib duty, I have to duck down under the boom, let the jib go, scuttle across to the opposite side of the boat, gather the jib line again and pull tight. Then we go speeding off again.

Now on this particular day, I receive a baptism of wind and waves. Sally is very solid and stable, built for reliability rather than speed, but she’s loving the howling conditions. One of my jobs is balancing the boat, and when she heels over to one side, I have to sit (or even stand) up on the side and lean way back, clinging for dear life to the jib line and mast cables. I’m whooping and laughing like Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump. Sometimes, when Sally is lying almost on her side in the water, I think things are pretty hairy, but I take my cue from Captain Moonman, who is sitting quite calmly, a gentle hand on the tiller, looking like he’s at home having tea. So it must be OK, then. Hey, this sailing jol is kinda fun! Whoo-hooo!

My Moonman was just about born on the water among boats, and has been sailing ever since. He’s a total natural and a master sailor. So I have 100% faith when he’s at the helm. He can sail anything from a tiny dingy to a large yacht. (Yes, it’s very sexy, I know.) His boys got their skipper’s tickets when they were six and eight years old. Even his dogs love sailing. And when he’s sailing with his boys (and dogs and wench), he is at his happiest.

After my maiden voyage, having anchored the boat and waded ashore, Moonman shakes his head and chuckles, “Shoo, Skootle, that was quite hectic!”
“What? Why?”
“Well, conditions were a little…uhhmm… lively, for your first time.”
“Really? Oh. I thought that was normal… But it was GREAT!”
“You’re a brave wench, Skootle.”

I am starting to notice some changes in myself. I blame the onset of early middle age, the long-awaited absence of toddlers, and the relentlessly wholesome influence of Moonfolk. I must admit that I enjoy sailing even when I’m not reading. Walking the dogs in the quiet moonlight is almost as good as lying in bed reading. I have even gone on two hardcore camping trips with no beds or ablutions, and enjoyed both immensely (one of our camping companions commented that I made walking out of the bush with spade and toilet paper look elegant, almost glamorous). I have sat quite happily in the bakkie with nothing to read, staring at the water, while the boys surfed. I have to concede that the Moonman may be right: going on holiday and spending the entire time either sleeping or with your nose in a book, is not the only way of relaxing and recharging. Having fun can also be relaxing. I just need some more practice.

Nowadays, when the Moonman asks what I would like to do today, I can say quite honestly, “Some sailing would be nice…”

Erica Neser © 2011


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