VS PARANI PERSONAL BLOG
This is my personal blog and I am happy to share with you my knowledge and experience on health and safety issue in the shipping industry.
My first grounding
I was sixteen when I grounded my first ship. It was a rowboat actually but I learnt my lesson so well that I never had to go through the same experience for the rest of my career.
During my final year in high school, a group of friends and I went on a boating trip. The water sports complex was at the end of a lagoon, one of many in the Andaman Islands. The lagoon is lined with mangroves and has several ‘mangrove islands’ inside the backwaters.
The Union Territory of Andaman & Nicobar Islands lie over 1300 kilometres away from the mainland of India, stretching over a length of more than 700kms from North to South and consist of 572 emerald Islands and rocks. Only 36 of these islands are inhabited and the rest are maintained in pristine condition. More information is available at http://www.andamans.gov.in/
Mangroves cover close to 1000 square kilometres in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. These hardy plants fringe the shoreline anywhere between half and one kilometre. The roots can hold fast on a muddy seafloor even where the tides change significantly. They are an important eco-system hosting several varieties of animals, crustaceans, birds and insects. The opening referred to in the story was similar to the one seen in the centre of this picture. See more information about the local mangroves at http://forest.and.nic.in/frst-mangroves1.htm. Photo courtesy Neelima Vallangi at http://www.travelwithneelima.com/2013/03/forests-andaman.html
On this beautiful Saturday afternoon, we chose two rowboats and we were four of us in each. We were all island boys, having grown with the sea as an ever-present backdrop. Most of us had only some experience boating in more protected waters and as such were novices. However, we were not short of any confidence, so when the local guide offered to help us row through the waters, we coolly declined.
There were no other visitors for the day. We had the huge lagoon to ourselves and we were racing against each other for over an hour. There was a mangrove island on one side of the lagoon; such ‘islands’ are actually mangroves growing over a shallow area of the backwaters. One of the boys spotted an opening in the mangrove island, a creek which looked as if it was bisecting the island. The creek did look dangerous, mysterious and fun- all which a teenage boy could want for an adventure, and we did get it!
All the boys, including me agreed to go into the creek. There was room only for one boat at a time and since we were the nearest to the opening, our boat would lead, and the other would follow.
A typical creek through the mangroves. These make for an exciting boat trip, though not in the way we did! Some mangrove areas are also home to the salt water crocodile! Image courtesy: Andaman & Nicobar Administration, http://www.andaman.gov.in/
We rowed through most of the creek, admiring the natural beauty of the trees, listening to the sounds of the birds settling on the trees and making a lot of boisterous noises ourselves. We were within sight of the end of the creek when our boat touched bottom. The water was quite clear but we were so pre-occupied that we had not noticed the muddy bottom getting closer.
We warned our friends in the other boat to stop and retreat so they wouldn’t collide with us. Meanwhile we tried rowing hard either way to get out of our predicament but the boat was fast aground. To our amazement, the tide started running out, and boy, was it fast! I would learn later, that it was a spring tide and the tidal range would be greater than on normal days, which also meant the speed at which the water would run in or out would also be greater.
Very soon we were sitting on the mud, helpless as the proverbial sitting duck. The boat was thankfully flat-bottomed and stayed stable over the mud. In the meanwhile, our friends in the other boat, finding that they were not in a position to help us, backtracked and stayed at the entrance of the creek to give us moral support.
On the boat, we were wondering what just happened and how would we get out. We quickly realised that this was new moon, and it would be pitch dark before the tide rose to float us. No one was in the mood to spend a night in the middle of a mangrove jungle with animals and insects which were not our pets. We were still in high spirits through and actually made jokes about our stupidity. The boat was stuck to the mud in the middle of the creek and we had to find a way out now.
One of us had to get down from the boat and reach the trees. He would then bend or break some branches for the rest to get across. Then we would walk across the mangroves till we were able to swim back to the complex. We had no lifejackets on which we could use to distribute our weight on the mud. The oars were small and could not be used as ‘bridges’. We had to make an attempt which was close to trying to walk on water. I don’t know now whether I was being foolish or being brave but back then, I volunteered to make the first attempt.
So I stripped to my bare essentials, and got down from the boat, helped by my friends. To my horror, I kept sinking in the mud till I was almost up to my neck. I realized I would simply sink in the mud and the only way I would go was down. I decided I had enough and this was not going to work. My concerned friends hauled me back in. Now I was dirty, almost naked and looking at a long night in the dark. No cell phones back then to call for help either!
Our friends in the other boat saw what was happening and decided the best solution was to row back to the complex and call for help. We agreed and that it was best to stay put on the boat.
About an hour later, my friends in the other boat, and the sports instructor were back at the entrance of the creek. The instructor did not know if he had to feel angry, sorry or amused at our plight but decided to help us out himself. I must say, he went beyond the call of duty to take up this effort himself. He got barefoot, and armed with a machete cut down some branches to support his weight as he walked his way form the edge of the swampy island to where we were.
When he got near us, he cut some branches to make a sort of bridge for us to get off the boat and get to a safer ground. We got off the boat, shoes around our necks, forming a chain to help each other out. Slowly we made our way back walking through half a kilometre of uncertain ground, occasionally stepping on crabs, mangrove roots and shells. Finally we made it to the waiting boats and back to the sports complex. We were still in high spirits, even jumping off the boat on the way back to clean ourselves up of the mud.
The sports instructor was kind enough to offer hot tea and blankets before giving us an earful for our foolish idea of getting inside an unknown creek. We are all now in our forties, and look back on that incident which never fails to bring a smile.
I went on to become a ship-captain, commanding ships of over 200 metres long. I learnt a few valuable lessons that day:
- Navigating a ship in uncharted waters is not a good idea!
- Time and tide wait for no man!
- Don’t blame luck if you haven’t prepared!
- Ignorance is not an excuse!
- There is a thin line between foolhardiness and bravery!
- You can get hurt while having fun!
- Stay calm, stay positive, even in adversity and you will find a way.
- Stay loyal to your friends, they will help you when you least expect it!
- Have faith in God but you are responsible for your own actions!