Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Fancy a canoe trip ??!!

I wasn't going to mention it, but I've done my back in. I think it was the canoe disaster that did it. Not the disaster itself of course, but the tension that terror brings when you are a spectator. Did I mention the canoe disaster ?

Ah, right. Well, its like this chaps. Canoe trip #1 went swimmingly. ( ug! ) My little family and I climbed aboard our 4 man canoe, complete with life jackets and supplies. Off we went. Canoeing down the Dordogne. Its pretty shallow most of the way. Pretty mill pond-like. We stopped to buy a photo, drink some drink, and arrived at the pre-arranged point to catch the bus. We were an hour early. I put it down to supreme athletic ability.

And then our friends arrived. Just for a couple of days. Let's do the canoe trip, we said.

So the day dawned, hot, bright and still. We went to the canoe place and hired our 4 man canoes. Mums at the front, 2 smaller kids in the middle " paddling " and Dads at the back steering and paddling. All went well. To start with. Ding a ding ding ding. Can you just feel a Deliverance moment coming on ? We laughed and splashed each other, we raced and took photos. We pulled over to re-new sun tan lotion and the other family swapped places. 11 year old daughter went up front and decided to take off her life vest. Being the mean Mummy I am I refused to let my boys take theirs off and my good, good Man backed me up.

Off we set and after a while we saw the river start to ripple a bit. Watch out for rocks !! Well we paddled past a couple of big ones and I shouted to point them out to the family behind. But, when you're 11 you don't know what underwater rocks look like, what they do to the water. And they didn't see it in time. They hit the boulder straight on, the canoe went up it, slew to the side and in slow motion they capsized, back behind the boulder. All I could hear was screams. The canoe wrapped itself around the rock. The current was so strong that it took us another 50 metres to be able to get to the bank and stop. By this time the 4 were huddled together in the middle of the river screaming. I couldn't tell if they were hurt or just damn scared. My Man got out and waded back up, but the river was so strong it took him a good 15 minutes. Other canoes were trying to help them, but they couldn't stop either - one boat, to our horror, ploughed through the middle of them, screaming apologies. The water was only waist deep, but they were trapped. Thank Goodness Dad managed to grab the girl's life vest and put it on her.

And then from the opposite bank a French man appeared. He waded slowly across to them. A Dutch family managed to get the 8 year old on board and brought him to me. Then the girl was rescued. Then the adults and I saw my Man unwedge the canoe with the Frenchman. I watched as he floated past us, paddling a half sunk canoe with the biggest grin on his face. He does love a crisis !!

And that was that. All safe. But it taught us all a lesson. Don't mess with Mother Nature, even if she's looking calm and safe and friendly. I did my bit, handing out hugs and calm words, chocolate and reassurance, but it shook us all up. Nobody was hurt, apart from a few bruises and cut feet. We still had to paddle for another hour or so to get to the bus and I think my back had had enough by then. Its strange how life can change in an instant, from warm and cuddly and happy to screaming and wet and terrified.
We will never forget the kindness of the French gentleman and the 2 Dutch families. They were good and kind, strong and selfless, and I wish I could meet them again and buy them a cold beer. My friends needed their help and they came.
When we were safe again we talked about it over and over. I think they needed to go through it in their heads. The worst thing was seeing their children being pulled away from them and being absolutely helpless.

Ding a ding ding ding...... Fancy a canoe trip anyone ?


Farm Wife said...

You know how to make a girl panic! And I haven't been in any kind of boat in almost 9 years!

I am so glad everyone was safe...and hopefully all will wear life vests next time. My Grandpa & Grandma M&M used to take us fishing in their boat every summer & I hated that they were such sticklers for a life vest. Now I know they were just being good Grands.

Mum's the Word said...

Wow! I was holding my breath while I was reading! Thank goodness everyone is fine and that there were brave and helpful people about.

Joshua said...

This was written so well! I was having a mini pitter patter heart thumping rythm as I read! Glad everyone is okay!

Sarah said...

Thanks for saying you liked my writing ! Yes, it makes you realise how powerful water is, even when its not that deep. I used to think my Mum was silly making us wear life jackets when we went rowing on the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Now I look at it in a different way. And another thing - I stopped my littlest one going in their canoe at the last minute. Can you imagine watching my 7 year old from 50 metres away, screaming and terrified and maybe about to drown any minute ? Oh dear me. S