Sunday, February 6, 2011

Unkindest cut of all

Yesterday the Outward Bound cutter was mown down in Queen Charlotte Sound by a Dolphin Watch catamaran, destroying it and injuring most of those inside, some of them seriously. Bad news.

This is that cutter when I did my OB course in 2003: it was our first hands-on experience of our week there, as it probably was for the students yesterday. We'd all met at the ferry terminal, had the briefest of introductions and then changed into running gear to jog all the way round the bay, past amused tourists on Picton's waterfront, to a cove on the other side. There we were instructed to run right into the water and swim out to this cutter, scramble aboard, and row it to a small island in the Sound, where we manhandled the sails up the mast and by guess and by God navigated it to the little beach where we spent the night under the stars, taking turns at keeping watch over the boat. And where a possum ran over my stomach while I was asleep.

It was a typically full-on introduction to OB, and we found that they're not the least bit interested in teaching outdoor skills, but fully focused on pushing people out of their comfort zones, literally and figuratively, to discover what they're capable of. None of us was particularly experienced in any of this nautical stuff, but we muddled through ok and once we'd got over the shock, were quite proud of what we did, even though it had no style at all.
This is one of the group of 14, Norm Hewitt, who in a former life was an All Black, but on the cutter was most useful as a dead weight for controlling the jib. Possibly gib.
And this is a man whose name I forget, because when we arrived at Anakiwa the next day and were shown the high ropes course that we were to negotiate that evening under spotlights, he scarpered after dinner and was never seen again.

Shame. Other people were scared of things too, like swimming under the cutter, or abseiling down a cliff, but they did it and were proud of themselves. I bet he's still sorry he didn't go through with it. None of that stuff worried me - not because I'm brave, more that I have a lack of imagination for possible consequences; but I did learn some things about myself, good and bad. The bad was that I was too obedient: when we did our solo two nights in the bush, I took only what was allowed and spent most of the time dutifully alone in this Spartan shelter with only passing possums for company. Believe me, when viewed from flat on the ground, in moonlight, with nothing between the two of you but a thin nylon sleeping bag, a possum looks much bigger than you remember.
The others, meanwhile, had not only taken lots more equipment from the storeroom, but had been visiting each other's camps very sociably all day. On the second night they decided I must have had enough time to write up all the notes I'd said I needed to do, and invited me to Norm's pad, where he'd erected a huge tent and been cooking up tins of corned beef over a fire. It made a nice change from the regulation flapjacks and water, I must say.

And the good thing I learned is what brought me here, to do this travel-writing lark: that it's no good thinking "one day I might try that". You have to commit. And look how that's worked out!

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