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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Disasters at sea! (Well...not quite...)

How many of you have ever gone yachting? My cousins family own a small plot of land at the side of a river called the Vaal (Pronounced 'Vahl'). We occasionally go over to their plot to spend public holidays or the odd weekend. It's really nice despite the distinct lack of a toilet.

It is really just a large open piece of ground that is basically just open veld (pronounced 'felt' - it's the afrikaans equivalent of grassland). Luckily, there is a patch of tree-like weeds which provide good cover for when 'nature calls', so the toilet issue is somewhat resolved.

Well, on Easter Monday this year, we all went to the plot to spend the day. It was so nice! I really needed a change of scenery and it's always great to get to see family. We all left Joburg at about 10:00am and headed straight there. It's about 80+ km south from Johannesburg, so it takes about an hour to get there. My parents were supposed to come too but my dad wasn't well and my mom refused to leave him to his own devices, and so stayed home.

Once we had arrived, we being my aunt and uncle, my two cousins Sarah and Duncan and my sisters, their friend and I, we set up camp and started a fire going, to braai (pronounced 'bry' - afrikaans word for a barbecue). Shortly thereafter, my other aunt and uncle arrived with their kids and my grandmother. We all helped to set up camping chairs and whatnot and soon everyone was sitting around, chatting, as is customary at these things.

The day progressed as usual and apart from a very bad culinary mistake as a result of my sisters friend suggesting that we braai our vegetarian (she is also a veggie) sausages doused in mustard, all was going swimmingly!

Usually, when we go there we go for sailing trips around the river. However, this time, the little metal thingy, which to the best of my knowledge has no name, that sits at the front of the boat and has a rope through it which can be tied to stuff to prevent the boat floating away, was broken. So, as soon as things were set up and the food was on the braai, my uncles immediately got to fixing it. By about 3:00, it appeared to be seaworthy.

So we began to take the boat out. It is always a bit of a job and requires all hands to achieve due to the fact that the ramp thingy leading from the boat house to the water has kind of disintegrated because of the river eroding it. So, after much tying of ropes and erecting of masts, the boat was ready for the water. There was one rather unpleasant problem though...

The boat reeked of rat urine!

It was disgusting! The stench was rather overpowering! At one stage, someone mentioned how they had gotten a 'pure wiff' of it when a breeze had picked up. So it was dubbed 'Pure Wiff' (This was followed by many crude jokes about the marketing strategies that would be best suited to selling a product that was actually rat piss called 'Pure Wiff'). The boat is seldom used and, given that the plot is mostly wild vegetation in the middle of nowhere, it's no surprise that the boathouse probably had rats.

So, we held our breath and pushed the boat into the water. Almost immediately, a small crowd, including myself had gathered in the hopes of being taken out on the boat. I used to be terrified of capsizing and falling into the water, but now I love going out on it! So, my now rather tipsy uncle volunteered to take us out and Sarah, Duncan, my cousin Emma and I all piled into the boat along with the tipsy uncle. He was surprisingly sober when it came to operating the boat. Once everyone was in, we cast off.

About 20m from the shore, my uncle looked at the bottom of the boat and saw a large tuft of grass that had somehow gotten into the thing. For the same reasons that rats wouldn't be a surprise, this was inconsequential. He simply tossed it into the water and we went on. Shortly thereafter, I noticed something alarming!

The boat was leaking! I mentioned this and nobody, appart from Duncan thought this to be of significance. My uncle seemed to think that as long as we were bailing out all the rapidly collecting water, it was okay. And so we sailed on.

At some stage, Sarah shrieked and said 'There are rats on the boat!' And there were! At first we thought that there was only one, but as time passed, we realised to our horror, that there were at least 5! Now, this boat isn't very big. It can fit maybe 6 people sitting in it, at a stretch and even then, you probably wouldn't be able to stear it. So, there isn't much space and given that there were 5 rats running around it, the chances of having one scuttle onto you, or worse, bite you, were pretty good. So we spent the rest of the time with our feet up on the center-board trying to balance the boat and not let our feet touch the floor, all while dodging waves of the now-dissolved-in-river-water-from-the-leak Pure Wiff.

We soon realised that the grass had actually been the top half of a rat nest! This, coupled with a few close calls as far as capsizing the boat in concerned, the leak and the fact that we now had 5 rats running around under us in the bottom of the boat, lead us to head back in. It was great fun!

I went out again immediately, but this time with my sister, Lucia, who is terrified of sailing. Why she got into the boat in the first place still escapes me, but she did. The whole time she spent digging her nails into my knees, hands and shoulders, wimpering and praying aloud 'Please God, don't let this boat topple over!' It was really funny in a sadistic brotherly kind of way!

Once we returned to the shore, we all packed up and headed off home. It was a great day!

Random Fact For The Day:

Chewing gum while peeling onions will keep you from crying


  1. luke! this morning before i came to wits, i watched some csi (i have an addiction) and there was this dead girl with this lump in her throat and when they opened her mouth this RAT crawled out and it was soooo gross!

    and now i have left you with that wonderful mental image, my work here is done

  2. ah...south africans leave one with the loveliest mental pictures...

    this story is amazing, luke! how did you get the courage to go out again? did you someone get the rats out? rats terrify me.

  3. Well, the rats were actually rather cute! They were little and due to the hole in the side of the boat, were rather wet and miserable looking. We just left them there, in the boat.