Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Naughty but Nice

I was going to call this post Puppies and Porpoises… for reasons which will become obvious.  However it isn’t technically correct so I went looking for some other alliteration.  I’ll start with nice. 

Of the many enjoyable moments our crew of eight shared on the Beneteau Cyclades 50.5 foot yacht sailing the Greek Islands last week, a highlight for all was the arrival of a large pod of dolphins.  We were under sail and sun on route from Kithnos to Lavrion, packing a good rate of knots, when the large pod appeared around our bow with a fabulous show.  Along both sides of the boat they glided at speed under water, before jumping up and down, up and down surfing the waves.  Two, three or four at a time, as synchronised as an Olympic team, they dived up and out of the water with perfect timing.  Sometimes the arc through the air was sharp, fast, other times it was more languid… but still they kept in unison.  Were they brothers and sisters competing?  Friends having a lark?  They were certainly working it. 

Then suddenly they’d break away and swim wide, coming back at pace and passing under the boat so our eight transfixed spectators rushed to the other side – kicking our toes and struggling to grab a rope hold so we didn’t fall in the drink.  Ooh and ahs and shouts of glee accompanied each magical turn, then squinting eyes and spinning heads as we lost sight of them for a moment: “have they gone?”… “can you see them?”… “yes, look they’re ahead… yes, they’re off to the side”… and back our friendly mammals would come to treat us again with cheering, squealing, pointing and laughter.  Click, click of the cameras followed by greedy sighs: “oh, but they’re too quick for the shutter”… until a few switched to filming rather than stills.  Whatever we got by way of photos it was a memory to be filed and savoured.

As the dolphins glided within a meter of the boat, these much-loved creatures of the sea looked ancient, wild and untouchable.  As they broke the water with their pointy noses and sparkling eyes, flinging themselves wholeheartedly into the enjoyment of the wave, they looked like cheeky children or psyched-up surfers – at one with their admirers, accessible, tame.  Our faces were awash with smiles of delight and privilege; our skipper, Simon, assuring us in all his trips he’d never seen so many dolphins playing around a boat so long, so joyously.  What a gift for our last day, what an injection of innocent energy; an unencumbered connection with nature.  Naturally we reached for a celebratory drink, and as we moved towards Cape Sounion on the Attica peninsula, getting a terrific view of the impressive Temple of Poseidon at sunset, we felt considerably luckier than King Aegeus: who, legend has it, famously threw himself off this cliff after mistakenly believing black sails indicated his son, Theseus, had been slain by the Minatour - a tragedy of mistaken timing and messaging similar to Romeo and Juliet - for, in fact, Theseus had simply forgotten to unfurl white victory sails as he returned home from Crete after battle.

Also nice was our decision to hire dune buggies and quad bikes to explore a couple of islands: Paros and Kithnos.  Not only did this give the boys a chance to shamelessly show off, wherever possible scaring Emma and I sufficiently so we’d scream or hang on to them more tightly, it also let us explore the interior of these rocky outcrops which would have otherwise remained aloof.  The views over cliffs down to deeply blue Mediterranean seas were reliably dramatic.  But what we couldn’t believe was the unrelenting barren landscape; not a blade of grass or crop in sight. The only farm animals were a scattering of goats, donkeys, and one seemingly precious cow.  Some dry-rock fences separated some ancient terraces, and the proximity of decrepit windmills suggested grain had once been produced, but the only ‘active’ business was fishing, restaurants and tourism cluttered around the village ports.  How do they cope with so little rain fall?  How can they keep the cost of fruit and vegetables down with so few natural resources?  (Well, other than sun and sea of course.)  And how is it that an endless panorama of rugged brown contrasted against glaringly-white Legoland buildings with blue shutters, is so alluring?  Yet the more we traded places on our rickety vehicles and found another village or harbour to explore, the more we took the Greek Islands to our heart. 

Well, until two of the vehicles broke down about eight kilometres outside Mérikha, such that we had to be rescued by the owner who approached us with a shake of the head and a contrite “bad day”.  He had the smoke pouring out of my buggy to worry about, poor chap.  We, on the other hand, had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves; if quietly hoping the boy’s dare-devil speeds and 360 degree spins on the beach hadn’t contributed too directly to the current state of affairs.  Seriously though, does every bloke turn into Michael Schumacher given half a chance?  Jason certainly did and Mark was quick to follow his example.  It contrasted nicely, anyway, with Simon’s metamorphoses over the week as he took footage for the purposes of cutting a “how to” documentary… chatting to the camera about sailing, history, and even yachting cooking tips… his increasingly sun-tanned face and ebullient enthusiasm allowing him to slot comfortably into the role of the “Yachting Man’s Steve Irwin”.  

On the naughty side of this equation, we had the boy’s perpetual cheekiness – leaving the girls never quite sure whether it was best to match their provocative retort, or withdraw as ammunition would only give them encouragement.  For better or worse I tend to come in on cue (theatrical training no doubt), and after growing up with four brothers and years of experience dealing with back-stage crews, I am happy to banter.  But I also take the bait far too predictably (damn it), so of course they reeled me in again and again, joke after joke.  It was funny.  I have no complaints.  But when Simon, aka the Yachting Man’s Steve Irwin, arranged for us to get behind the boat in the middle of the open ocean and grab onto a long rope, thrown out from the stern to form a drag line, it would appear he knew he could stir up trouble.  I was wearing an old bikini with a weak latch at the back.  When I’d dived in the water before I had nearly lost both top and bottom, but thankfully no-one was looking in my direction to witness it.  As soon as I got onto the rope drag, however, and the boat started to go faster, I swung around in the wash like a bobbing cork – my legs and arms flying this way and that, depending on how dramatically Alex steered the boat to shake things up.  Angela fell off the tow, so I held on tighter.  Emma was barely clinging on but our legs were banging into each other.  Simon was behind me encouraging us not to let go and lie on our backs for better balance.  Then my bikini latch snapped to hang loose from one shoulder like a fallen scarf.  “Yoo hoo” Simon shouts to the boys on the boat “we have the puppies out”… by which time I am lying on my back in the boat’s wash, holding on for dear life, and reluctant to roll over (even if I could have managed it) as that had already resulted in mouthfuls of water.  Of course Alex then sped the boat up more so I had to hang on or risk being left a long way behind in deep, open, ocean.  I’m used to doing quick changes back-stage so it was no biggy, but of course the boys milked it as I eventually climbed back up the ladder onto the boat with puppies in full view.  “Well, that was worth it” they grinned.  “Rope drag works every time” added the skipper.  Hmm, was Steve Irwin that naughty?

Things had clearly relaxed between all of us by the last day; 'cause later the boys ‘topped me’ while I was off-guard watching the dolphins.  So soon I figured “to hell with it”.  I’m going back to London’s awful weather, I may as well lie on deck now, drink a nice white wine and sunbake topless.  Later Mark took a picture of me positioned on the bow like a mermaid, to which a passing yacht seems to have been amused.   

We may not have known each other a week ago, but once the puppies have been out there’s little point going back in the closet.

Naughty but nice.