My lower back aching, my fore arms burning, the lactic acid building up quickly. I am paddling as fast as I can. Standing up in the dingy with a small poxy life raft paddle, SM and the kids sitting at my feet. Paddle, paddle, paddle. The boat’s so far away the sun setting at a rapid pace. Paddle, paddle, paddle. What a mess. We went exploring this afternoon through a coral lagoon and made the rookie mistake of not paying attention to the depth. Next thing there is a big thud noise and we all go jolting forward in the dingy. SM drops French words left right and centre, toatly appropriate in a french country. The dingy sits about 100m from the shore stuck on the coral shelf surrounding the island. He pulls up the out board and tries to push us off, but we are stuck, run aground. We pile out of the dingy and on to the reef. SM pulls the dingy and carries KL and I carry AK. Together we do the stone fish shuffle across the reef to the sand. We were not prepared to be walking on reef and packed no shoes.
We anchor the dingy and don’t think twice. We are off exploring walking around the island, seeing sea snake after sea snake and hundreds of sea cucumbers. The sun starts to set so we head back to the dingy and all slowly shuffle across the reef to deeper water. Once the dingy has enough clearance we all pile in and fire up the motor. She is revving her guts out but we aren’t moving. SM starts dropping French again. We have snapped the prop shaft pin! We are a long way from the boat and the only other boat around just took off and left us thrashing about in its wake. So we resume the paddling position since we only have one half sized oar. SM does the first part and gets us out of the lagoon and around the corner of the island. Since I am vertically challenged it only makes sense that I should paddle. So off I go. I feel like I’m in a wild version of a Venice canal. The kids singing ‘row row row your boat’ while I paddle my heart out to get us back to the boat before the darkness sets in.
The dingy rides little waves making the paddling slightly easier here and there. We are now about 300m from the boat and the sun just sunk below the horizon. The tide is pulling us into the surrounding reef where the waves have now started breaking. I keep my eye on our boat and paddle away. My heart is burning and that sinking feeling of drifting over the horizon or worse onto the reef is filling my mind. I paddle harder and harder and after what seems like an eternity we finally run over our anchor chain. SM grabs the chain and pulls us up towards the boat, He then grabs the bow and we shimmy across the side of the hull towards the cockpit. We made it. The kids scurry onboard and straight inside under the doona to warm up their frozen bodies. I collapse in a heap on the cockpit floor completely exhausted from my impromptu exercise session. For over an hour I paddled my little heart out.
We are all so grateful to be back on our boat once again. We learnt two very valuable lessons; One to make sure we pack oars, two oars and not just one of the kids play oars; Lesson two ,we keep an eye on the depth and if it looks shallow row in! Besides that little bit of gut wrenching drama earlier in the day we saw whales, they were almost so close to the boat that we could touch them. Such massive animals moving through the water so gracefully. Beany and I stood in the cockpit squealing and screaming every time the whales broke the surface, AK enjoyed watching our expressions and clapping each time she saw one. For about 20 minutes the whales just swam about behind the boat, occasionally making a pathetic attempt at breeching. Not a bad way to start our New Caledonian adventure. The perfect mix of drama and amazement