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Four Homeless Millionaires My wife and I are full-time artists & have raised our kids to recognize that taking risks and working hard is only reasonable when you're pursuing your dreams. We don't have a million bucks, but we feel like some of the richest people in the world.

Swarthy Swashbucklers * Phil Collins * Nautical Hazing Rituals

CANADA | Thursday, 31 March 2011 | Views [1204]

Today I was a millionaire…well at least I lived how I’d live if I were a millionaire. 

It all began with a magnificent invitation to join Zara’s uncle aboard his sailboat for a couple days. That was how we found ourselves heading out of Pittman Bay under the beautiful, bright Sydney sun attempting to tackle the challenging world of sailing aboard ‘Sail La Vie,’ Peter’s 37 foot Sea Odyssey.

Initially the experience reminded me of my early days as a theatre stagehand trying to remember which was stage right and stage left or front and back of house. We weren’t even out of the harbour before we were scrambling about the deck like a herd of landlubbers, stumbling over winches and cleats, getting tangled up in ropes and rigging. Peter tried valiantly to teach us some simple nautical terminology like port, starboard, coming about and tacking…but honestly, my affirmative head bobbing and grunts of understanding were really just reflexive ‘learned behavior’ I’d acquired growing up on a farm surrounded by burly, bearded men who wore tool belts and carried wrenches in their pockets. As usual, I had very little idea what was going on around me.

Amid the chaos I amused myself by muttering piratey phrases to Zion in a swarthy brogue every time we past; “why is the rum gone?” and “do we have an accord?” which was all the Pirates of the Caribbean dialogue I had time to channel between stubbing my toes and repeatedly drilling my head into the mast.

We headed out to Broken Bay where the Pittman and Cowan Rivers meet the Pacific Ocean. “Hey Zion and Riel,” I yelled over the sound of flapping sails and swelling waves slapping noisily against the hull, “you might want to wave…just over there on the other side of the world is Canada.”

We headed down the Cowan River as a northerly came steaming toward us; dark eyes and stormy skies intimating her harsh intentions. Oblivious to the impending deluge, I stood slack mouthed and gaping like a swashbuckling idiot savant until Peter nudged me to take the wheel. No sooner had he disappeared into the cabin than the heavens opened up and nature started screaming like a banshee. Wind and water stung my skin and blinded my eyes as I pointed the prow of the boat toward nothing, deciding that under my command I would prefer Sail La Vie run into nothing rather than something.

Just when I was starting to suspect that Peter was engaging in some bizarre nautical hazing ritual, he was back on deck in his rain gear and more than happy to take the wheel from my incapable hands as he guided us expertly into Refuge Bay.

We arrived at low tide and moored as near to the little beach as we could to make going ashore as convenient as possible. Just behind the beach a picturesque waterfall poured over a ridge from 40 feet up.

After securing the lines the adult portion of the crew reclined on the deck to sip chilled wine and dine on mango salad, ripe olives, Brie and crackers. (Only my inability to speak with an exotic accent marred this moment) As the winds died down we found ourselves looking out over the deep, dark water, as still as glass reflecting the billowing clouds overhead.

Back in 1943 Refuge Bay was known to a select few as Camp Z, a top secret training spot for the Australian army. At a time when the Allies were looking for ways to strike at Japanese strongholds in the Pacific, a twenty-something Brit named Ivan Lyon, and a sixty-something Australian named Bill Reynolds hatched a plan to attack Singapore harbour. Reynolds owned a beat up Japanese wooden coastal vessel he had used to smuggle refugees out of Sumatra. Their plan was to use the old ship to sail into Singapore harbour under the cover of darkness carrying commandos who would attach mines to the Japanese shipping vessels. In September /43 the ship headed off carrying a crew of four British and 11 Australians. When they reached Singapore, six men set off in three frail rubber and canvas folboat canoes. They attached limpet mines to a number of vessels and ended up sinking or damaging at least six ships.

I admit none of this was on my mind when Zion and Riel said they wanted to go ashore and explore. Having not quite finished my wine I personally wasn’t prepared to go when they wanted to, but told them to take the dingy and I would join them shortly by swimming to shore.

Soon my salad was consumed, my wine was sipped and I was standing on the back of the boat in my swimmers staring at the water. Refuge Bay suddenly seemed cold and forbidding and anything but a refuge. Movie reels started to spin in my mind, the kind staring sexy, rich kids languishing on yachts much like the one I was on, suddenly being eaten by mammoth or genetically modified sharks. Those movies always started with some dumbass dangling his feet in the ocean, kicking back and forth and basically begging great incisors to chomp them off. As soon as the thought crossed my mind I stopped kicking and quickly pulled my feet out of the water.

I looked at the beach...it seemed to have floated a lot further away than I had initially imagined, it could have been the wine or possibly, some reverse mirage or miscalculation in the space-time continuum. Whatever the case, the kids where already pulling the Zodiac up on the shore and starting to scamper around.

I thought of diving off the side of the boat and gaining some forward motion toward the shore, but the thought immediately seemed ill advised…I might as well ring a doorbell if I wanted to alert all the sharks in Refuge Bay to my presence.

I thought it would be better if I just ‘slipped’ into the shark-infested waters quietly and didn’t make a big deal about my presence. I was pretty sure that Planet Earth said sharks could smell fear, so I tried to exude a strong aquatic ‘no-shark-bitches-better-fuck-with-me-’ persona as I crept down to the water. Which was right about the time my foot slipped and I fell unceremoniously ass first into the bay, committing the classic horror movie blunder by broadcasting my presence to all the available killers.

‘Ah shit,’ I muttered and thought I should get the hell out of the water, right frigging now! Only that seemed like such a pussy thing to do. What would I say to Zara? What would I say to the kids? “Sorry guys, I just didn’t want to be the victim in the imaginary horror flick playing on the screen behind my eyes.”

So…I started to swim…with all my heart and soul. I kept my eyes forward on the beach before me…it might be a bloody long way off, and things might get really bloody and foamy and horrific before I got there, but I was going to stroke purposefully toward the beach until the Devil or a Great White Horror prevented me.

It didn’t take very long until everything went horribly wrong. The movies have it all wrong, there is no ‘duh, da, duh da, duh da’ sound track, there is no dorsal fin slicing the water from 40 feet away, these creatures come from below, fast and furious without warning, they don’t break the surface until they arrive in a cascade of teeth and fury…

‘Oh dear god…’ I whispered as I felt the currents swirl, something was definitely moving under me.

As I swam I started to pray ‘oh god…oh shit…oh god…oh shit.’ My heart was pounding like a jackhammer as my body and soul fell into the penitent rhythm only a sinner such as myself can truly know. I tried to continue my purposeful stroke all the way to shore only…I never really swim. I don’t have a strong stroke to call upon in times of mortal peril, be it front crawl, breast-stroke or frantic-flail…too late I realized, that when I’m in the water, I’m just…bait.

I tried to push myself harder and faster but as I drew shallow, ragged breaths I realized I had put myself in an even more vulnerable position. The greatest predator in the ocean was about to go postal on my ass and in my weakened condition I wouldn’t have the strength for even token resistance.

I turned over on my back to change the pace and give myself a chance to catch my breath. ‘Maybe,’ I thought, ‘this is even a better position; maybe it will be harder to grab me somehow if I’m not facing down.’ I realized I was swimming past a cabin cruiser and looked up right into the eyes of a guy…The Guy…the guy who later that night was going to be on the evening news. The guy that saw IT happen. It will be the story he’ll tell friends for the rest of his life.

“It was unbelievable,” he’ll exclaim, “I was just standing on the back of my boat as he swam by and the BHAM! that fucking shark came out of no where…it was FAR OUT!”

“What a dick” I thought as his eyes slide off mine, “to use ‘far out’ as the adjective to describe the death of another human being.” Oprah will probably have him on…shit with the right publicist he’ll make the entire circuit…Conan, Letterman, Regis and Kathy Lee.

“What an asshole… he’s going to make a killing off my killing and the guy is so busy standing there drinking beer he can’t even create a descent distraction. As I swam off to my imminent demise I hummed Phil Collins, In the Air Tonight and let my voice drift out across the water, “if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand…”

I pictured Phil hearing the story and coming out of retirement to be the musical guest on Oprah the day this jerk is on just so he could sing the song to him.

Then it hit me! What the crap am I doing! I’m floating in shark-infested waters singing Phil Collins! Disgusted with myself I flipped over and started swimming like a man possessed. Zion and Riel saw me from the shore and started to wave.

‘Oh god no!’ I thought, ‘not in front of my kids…don’t let me be devoured in front of my kids!’

Instinctively I started to pray again, matching each breath with each stroke I channeled the Little Engine that Could, ‘oh god…oh shit…oh god…oh shit…’ I prayed and pulled in unison. Glimpsing a shadow in the corner of my eye I went faster, ‘oh god oh shit oh god oh shit’ - a definite swirling of currents under me and I went even faster, ‘ohgodohshitohgodohshit!’

I screamed with surprise and relief as my flailing arms and legs suddenly made contact with the sand. Zion and Riel waded into the water and start pulling on my swimmers, eager to show me the waterfall as tears of relief and inexpressible joy flowed through me…I was alive! Thank God above…I was alive! With wine scented breath I kissed my children and looked around at the world I’d never really seen. The air smelled fresher, the water felt cooler, the sky seemed brighter as I strode purposefully from the water…I was a man walking unscathed from the jaws of an over active imagination.

I spared one backward glance and the breath to whisper, ‘na, na, na, na boo, boo, you didn’t catch me,’ oblivious for the moment to the return journey I would have to make a few minutes later through the same waters…this time on an inflatable raft with my kids.


Tags: australia, family, refuge bay, rik leaf, sailing, sharks, world tour

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