Everyone has had this sort of experience. Leaning over the edge or a cliff, standing on the side of a bridge or on a deck with spaces between the boards, something slips out of a pocket or a hand. In the moments of the fall, you run through your alternatives,
- Ignore the loss – sorry you messed up the environment by dropping a tissue or tube of lip gloss.
- reach way way over risking your own fall? Jump after it if you’re over water? If you are a swimmer?
- the value of the item – should you watch carefully for its landing and then launch your search party? Or sadly say good bye?
- how long should you mourn? Days, hours, years or mere minutes?
In the spring of 1965, three guys signed me on to be their cook on a sailing from Trinidad & Tobago to Bermuda. It was a chance to sail for me. I was surprised that they hadn’t had any of my cooking before we launched because I would not have put "cook" into my curriculum vitae. However, I managed to fry eggs and sausages, open cans of spaghetti and satisfy their needs.
On the leg between Grenada and St. Vincent, I was lounging on the deck of the 45 ft sailboat when the silk scarf around my head fluttered off to the sea. It was my favourite scarf. Without engaging thought, I dived overboard. As my feet left the deck, I heard someone shout, “man overboard”.
As I arched over the water, it occurred to me that I had done a supremely stupid thing. I had overlooked the speed of the craft. There was nothing that I could do but follow through on the objective. Upon striking the water, I secured the scarf.
The sailboat had been having a lovely run in front of the wind. “Coming too” and zigzagging into the wind was not on the skipper's itinerary. Especially when the rolling sea obscured his sight of me, his target.
I hung there in 200 ft of water; it was salt water, ocean water, so I was very buoyant. With a minimum of effort, I could stay afloat. The sailboat was visible whenever I whip-kicked some elevation. My biggest fears were sharks and other unknown but surely deadly threats in the depths beneath me. I was sure that my skinny legs would look like food to a hungry denizen of the deep.
As the sailboat finally – the guys said that it was over an hour – reached me, I could see by the look on the skipper’s face that imaginary things in the water were not the only threat to my well-being.
Rob, the skipper, said nothing to me although the crew impressed upon me that my actions had resulted in a never-ending string of invectives. I apologized profusely.
We sailed through the leeward islands, stopping for refuelling and restocking. Guadeloupe was a specially beautiful port.
Rob never spoke directly to me again. His steely silence was broken when we arrived in Bermuda and he said good bye. I never saw any of them again. Sadly, I don’t even remember their names.
A sad tale about jumping even if we can. Some things are not worth the price we pay.