The author apologises for a complete lack of photography in this blog. The reader will realise for themselves why this is the case.
Paul had known in the pit of his stomach, that the idea of he and Andrew taking a sea kayak and paddling off for the famous ‘Emerald Cave’ on the edge of Thailand’s Andaman Sea could easily end in disaster. But as per usual he ignored the deep warning signs and instead set off onto the deep for a titanic moment on the high seas.
The boys set off from the beach at an ungodly hour, Paul only hoped that there was some seafaring deity who had also risen early and would therefore be looking down or up at them. The sky was a hot slate of muted greys and the sea matched her sullen mood. After a short watch, it was as crystal clear as the Indian ocean, that the Gods had obviously had a very late night! The Boys were on their own.
After the inaugural launch of the SS Lola, The Boys initially paddled in manic circles attempting to work in tandem; their double act though far less successful offshore. They were sinking much faster than they ever did onstage. At least that took a good couple of hours Paul thought. He barked an order at Andrew to come to the right. Andrew misunderstood his nautical command and used the right oar frantically, steering them over to port.
‘The other way’ Paul screamed.
‘You said the right’ Andrew shouted back.
‘I meant go to the right – to starboard’.
Paul’s formative years at naval school were flooding back. Sadly his pretentious use of seaman’s terminology fell on Andrew’s deaf ears who responded with equally salty language,
‘Fuck off you bossy twat’.
‘We’re taking on water’ Paul said urgently.
‘Piss off’ said Andrew.
He had never been keen on Paul’s inner seaman!
Paul was in the back off the kayak and feeling stern, he could see the boat was filling gradually with seawater. He could also feel himself sinking further into the ocean. He was now wet up to his waist. The kayak was so low in the water he suspected the hull must be filling too. He was well aware that his experience of boats was actually leading him to panic. Andrew, whose boating credentials extended to having once sung show tunes on an American cruise ship on some of the more ordinary Caribbean islands was certainly much calmer.
Sometimes ignorance was bliss thought Paul.
But The Lola Boys were definitely all at sea.
They managed to plough on through the deep ocean. As they rounded the cape of sheer vertical emerald jungle a large swell began to rock them now and then, each time causing a couple more gallons of seawater to sweep over the side of their craft. Paul stopped paddling occasionally and used his hands to scoop out as much water as he could.
Eventually, after a strenuous row and an even more energetic row, the boys spotted some dragon tail boats moored near to the base of the cliff. They paddled furiously to get to the rocks. When they arrived at the small bay there was nowhere to get ashore. The rocks were jagged and sharp, covered with millions of glass-like barnacles. They managed to navigate to the mouth of a small cave which had a couple of ledges on which they could perch as they attempted to empty their vessel.
‘Let’s leave it here’ said Andrew. Quite exasperated.
‘We can’t’ said Paul. ‘If the tide changes she might be gone when we come out’.
Paul spotted a rope hanging from seemingly nowhere at the mouth to the ‘Emerald Cave’,
‘Let’s tie her up over there’ Paul suggested.
‘You do it’ Andrew spat back.
The boat trip was not going well.
Paul paddled the boat over to the random line and attempted a ‘Sheepshank’. It had been a considerable while since he’d tied one, and what with all the stress of the ‘Lusitania’ moment he settled for a ‘Reef Knot’. He’d always considered that to be one of the most stylish of rope ties, and he knew if he didn’t get the boat secured quickly Andrew would be telling him to get knotted.
Though in less sober language!
Both of them were aware the excursion was not bobbing along nicely as one would wish, but Paul imagined they had independently decided to weather the storm that was brewing, and not let a little water cloud the moment.
Andrew, with a lamp strapped to his head, took the lead. He began his best doggy-paddle into the blackness of the cave. Paul thought he had the look of a drowning miner and smiled silently. He knew Andrew was not in the mood to be mocked. Not when there was drowning to be done. He followed confidently as Andrew lead them deeper into the earth. The cavern grew smaller, and darker with each stroke. They swam an abrupt corner and then there was nothing. An ink-black space and a mass of sea life swimming beneath them.
Paul turned to look for Andrew. There was no light at all and Andrew had been in charge of the torch. The entire rock felt like it was pressing heavily onto to him. It’s billions of tonnes of millions of years of limestone crushing the very breath out of him. He knew it had been stupid.
This excursion! Jesus!
Not only did Paul have a problem with being out of his depth – not just in water. He also loathed tunnels. Whilst driving at speed into the numerous underpasses that pepper Andalucia’s coast road, he had often had to suddenly decelerate, breathe deeply into a crisp bag, and think of a Barbra Streisand number so as to avoid passing out in the underpass.
So why had he considered a watery journey through a hell-like landscape to be fun? It was if he were swimming the Styx in Hades – the devil had the only torchlight. He could just about espy his partner in brine floating on his back about twenty feet behind him – the meagre light shining uselessly upwards into the cavernous cathedral of stone.
Paul then felt an all too familiar dread begin to course through him. His breath became shallow and his head started to spin. He knew he was starting to have a panic attack. It was not the first time.
Paul had always been highly confident in the water from a very young age. He’d been a leading member of ‘The Duckling Club’ at Putney Swimming Baths when he was a just able to walk. His ‘Ten Yard Certificate’ had proved a cinch! But his confidence had taken a huge knock years later when he found himself in hot water on the famous Ipanema Beach. He and two friends had almost come a cropper in the heavy surf there, whilst on singing gig on the QE2. It was only when the three of them managed to make it back to the beach that they had even noticed the entire lack of other swimmers and the flotilla of red flags dotted along the shoreline. He knew then, he’d been completely out of his depth. And he knew now, he’d try to make sure he never was again.
He also knew that having been a strong swimmer in Rio had saved him, but he’d allowed a plankton of doubt to drift across his subconscious. He was now of the knowledge that he was completely powerless if Neptune was not in the mood to play beach-ball. And the realisation had entirely destroyed his once buoyant attitude to the water. A tsunami of doubt now plagued him like a school of malevolent Men ‘O War. He knew the sea to have an entirely different character if she so chose. Malevolent and unforgiving.
He also knew he was wet.
It was most frustrating.
‘I’m turning back’ he gasped pathetically at Andrew.
‘What?’ Andrew replied.
‘I don’t like it’ Paul choked, ‘I’m going back.’
Paul used the special waterproof bag, in which his unused camera was packed, as a float, and began to kick for the small opening of daylight he could just make out. He didn’t know if Andrew was following. He didn’t care.
‘For fuck’s sake’, he heard Andrew’s baritone echoing in the distant darkness, ‘never again!’
When Paul got to the mouth of the cave he clambered unceremoniously onto the kayak, much of the sea joining him. He fiddled ferociously with the knot he’d tied wishing he’d gone for something simpler. A granny knot would have done! But he’d just had to over do it!
After freeing the vessel he paddled towards the rocks where Andrew had now beached himself. He alighted the craft awkwardly and he and Andrew then attempted to empty the boat for a second time.
‘Shit’ Paul screeched, ‘my hand!’ He had just scraped his left hand painfully along the banarcled boulder he had been trying to cling to whilst performing their marine routine.
‘Bollocks’ he cursed, blood filling his palm.
‘Stop panicking’ Andrew shouted, ‘this is the last fucking time I do anything like this with you. It’s always a fucking drama!’
‘No it’s bloody not’ yelled Paul, slipping from the rock and lacerating his other palm on the razor-like geography which engulfed them.
‘Shit’ he said quietly, hoping Andrew hadn’t noticed.
‘Twat’ Andrew hissed.
They both hauled the boat onto her side and watched as gallons of water flooded out.
‘See’ said Paul. ‘I knew we were sinking!’
‘Jesus Paul!’ Andrew shrieked.
‘What?’ asked a panicked Paul.
‘You’re getting all that blood into the bloody boat!’
Paul looked down and saw the scarlet rivulets dancing along the orange fibre glass hull. It looked oddly pretty. He thought he might be getting a little delirious. He said nothing.
‘So what’ screamed Paul. He didn’t think an extra half litre of him would make any difference to their vessel’s buoyancy. That was just displacement.
He was definitely getting delirious!
‘I’m gonna call over to that bloke on the boat’ he said to Andrew in a manner of exaggerated calm.
‘No don’t’ Andrew yelled ‘that’s so embarassing’.
‘I don’t fucking care!’ Paul said shakily, ‘our boat is sinking. How the buggery bollocks do we get back?’
Andrew realised their dilemma. Their craft was useless in her present state, and Paul certainly wasn’t helping with his constant panicking. In fact, he didn’t think Paul to be of any use at all. He knew his partner had gone to naval school but that had been over thirty years ago. His current nautical knowledge was now a half-remembered mess of knots and camp semaphore. With a touch dodgy morse code thrown in. Nothing practical that would help them out of this oceanic mess he had allowed himself to be talked into.
Paul always yearned for adventure, yet so often found disaster. Andrew often wondered if they had to come hand in hand. That just maybe his partner craved the exciting moment and the drama. He didn’t want to consider it.
Now was not the moment.
The boatman made a sign to come over. Paul and Andrew used their boat as a float and made their way over to the larger vessel.
Paul clambered aboard and helped the friendly captain haul the boys’ kayak onboard. It was so heavy they had to ask for help from another of the boatmen nearby. After a few seconds it was obvious why. Seawater gushed for several minutes from a spout on the bow of the boys’ boat. It splashed at length noisily back into the sea, much to the amusement of several European tourists floating safely nearby.
Paul knew Andrew was looking at the package group and thinking that they should have made the same easy choice and come on a motorised vessel. With a guide! It had been Paul who had wanted to take the adventurous route. He knew sometimes Andrew suspected him of doing it on purpose, just to have something to write about. If Paul were being entirely honest he thought Andrew may have had a point. But he wasn’t really sure.
After all, it was a hell of a risk, and he was hardly a bestseller!
When the boys’ kayak was eventually disgorged, the helpful shipmates they’d just met launched the SS Lola back into the water. Paul boarded first, followed by his partner. They thanked the boatman for their services and set off out to sea to return to the beach.
As they paddled away from the relative safety of the rocks, Paul’s hand dripped blood steadily onto the oar. The myriad of cuts stinging sharply as the salt water cut into them mercilessly. The water was coming onboard even quicker than before. Paul had a terrible sinking feeling.
They obviously had a puncture!
He said nothing. Andrew had managed to get himself into a good mood after the earlier drama, and was now singing the tune to ‘Hawaii Five 0’ at great volume, quite unaware of the volume of water filling the Boys’ stern.
Paul knew it was more like ‘Hawaii Five No’!
He only hoped they would make it back.
He emptied their water bottle and began to fill it with seawater, furiously decanting the stuff to whence it had came. When the water had decreased to thigh level he stopped and began to paddle quicker than Hiawatha with a rocket under her pretty feathered arse!
A last the beach came into sight. Paul was fairly confident they could make it.
‘That’s the last fucking time I do anything like that with you’ Andrew began, his sea shanty again, now a familiar tone to Paul, who knew their double act was just treading water at the moment.
‘It’s not my fault’ Paul steamed in, ‘I didn’t ask the bloody boat to sink.’
‘But it always happens with you.’ It’s always a bloody drama!’
‘Maybe that’s when you’re along’ Paul sailed in, ‘I’m alright on my own.’
Paul threw the paddles weakly at his husband and started to make his way up the beach. He was going to have words with the guy who’d hired out the leaky death trap of a bloody shit tub nearly killing them both!
Andrew started to drag the canoe along the sand but soon found it too difficult. It was clear the entire hull had filled with water again. They had been so close to going down.
Paul complained to the kayakman who very kindly offered to only charge them half price for the pleasure of sinking – twice! He explained it was not his fault, he could only be certain of the state of his fleet on their return to port. He then gave a dull, wry look alluding to the tonnage the boys had displaced on the vessel.
‘Bloody dangerous’ Andrew snarled and stomped up towards the bar. It was ten thirty!
Paul was annoyed to say the least. He was glad they’d both survived. But he wasn’t so sure their relationship was entirely as shipshape.
He suspected a couple of tankards of grog may improve the tempestuous situation. But the waters were definitely rocky.
Later, Paul stood in the passive pink sea. Alone and blissfully thoughtless. He felt the sting from his lacerated hands and was immediately reminded of the rocky moment earlier in the day. He smiled.
He headed to join Andrew for a beer, happy to be a landlubber, the wind coming confidently back into his sails. The thought that he and Andrew may have run aground dissipating as fast as a warm sea mist. He knew that he and Andrew had navigated far rougher waters in the past.
Only never in a kayak.
And, thought Paul, never again!