Saturday, 8 September 2007

Revisiting a Shipwreck

It's always a bit sentimental when an old sea salt like me (who couldn't sail a plastic boat in a bath tub) goes back to the scene of a notorious shipwreck.

It happened 10 years ago, when Willie and Pedro got up a bunch of us newly-arrived tourists for a trip to Sohoton Cove. It's a 4 hour trip, but Sohoton is a magical place; a completely enclosed tidal lake in a spectacular limestone karst area, sealed off from the outside world by a a natural cave tunnel, hanging with stalactites, and with a strong current.
The lake is overhung by jungle cliffs, where you can swim into caves with bats, strange fish, stalactites and rock oysters, and see weird corals, pitcher plants, cycads and wild orchids.
As expected, it was a wonderful trip, and things only really began to go wrong on the way home. We stopped off at Socorro, on Bucas Grande Island, for some more petrol, and Willie and Pedro took some refreshment. We left Socorro very much too late to reach home before dark.

About halfway, as it was getting dark, it started to rain, and the breeze began to get a bit fresher. Willie and Pedro kept their boats close together, within sight, or at least within calling distance (bancas like these don't carry navigation lights).

Suddenly, another totally unlit banca came in, full-frontal, between the two boats, and W & P panicked, veering off in different directions.

By now, it was pitch dark, and blowing up a considerable storm. We, in Willie's boat, tacked across a huge area trying to find Pedro.

There wasn't a hope in the darkness, rain and wind, and then something silly happened; the rubber band that tensioned the petrol feed, and controlled the engine speed, broke, and we found ourselves unable to control the accelerator. We could see a faint line of hills on the horizon, so we headed for it, full speed ahead.

We hit the reef at maximum speed; the propellor was ripped off, and we surfed, free-style, right over the reef into the shallow lagoon beyond.

We had no idea where we were, but traipsed, wet, miserable, and cold, along the beach, eventually finding ourselves in Union, the next small town down the coast from General Luna.

I visited Union with Shedney yesterday, and for sentimental reasons, went to the point where we were washed up. In spite of a bright sunny day, the impenetrable mangrove clumps and rock-strewn shallow water were just as horrible as they were that night. You might just be able to make out the surf line of the reef, about half a mile out:

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