I follow Armando’s instructions carefully. I grip the handles of the jet-ski with both hands. He supports my trailing legs with one hand in the region of my shins. Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, I edge away from the shore as I twist the throttle the smallest number of degrees towards me. The entire length of my body, from neck to toes, is afloat on the waves. My anxiety levels are rising slightly as I realize that my bulky clothing has quickly become saturated and that it is all I can do to crane my head upwards while the rest of me is settling deeper in the water.
“Arriba!” comes the shout from the shore.
I twist the throttle, and the 15HP engine attached to the base of this aquatic vacuum cleaner bursts into life. Dia gam shàbhaladh, God save me! I am being dragged out into the Pacific Ocean in the general direction of Japan. As this infernal machine is dragging me over the waves at speed I recall Armando’s casual instruction.
“Joost pull you’self oop.”
Just pull myself up?
Arnold Schwartschenegger couldn’t do that. Not at the speed I am traveling at.
With arms outstretched, I lower my head until my face is no more than six inches above the sea and abandon myself to being towed to Japan. My waterlogged clothing? I’ve no idea where my clothing is. Both Berghaus jackets, waterproof trousers and tops have been stripped from my body by the force of the oncoming waves. Even the all-in-one long johns are being peeled away from my body as I fervently pray for deliverance. Except for the lacing boots, all my clothing will be somewhere behind me in the foaming wake. All anyone can see from the shore is a little white behind bobbing up and down on the waves. Sharks, if there are sharks in these waters, will surely be in a frenzy. ‘Teuchter tòn for supper’ is the message they will have communicated in shark-speak to one another as they speed towards their defenseless prey.
Far behind me I hear Armando roaring. “ALARMA ROJA! ALARMA ROJA!”
Fatigue and panic combine to convince my inebriated brain that I must at all costs hang on to handlebars. In some impenetrable way my right hand twitches to push the throttle away from me. The engine slowly dies, and I end up drifting to a halt with my head partially submerged. Without forward momentum the machine is sinking and – the horror of it all! – it is pulling me down to the depths with it. Aaaaaargh! Sea water is pouring through my open mouth. This is worse than the Rich Ambrosia incident. Blood vessels are pounding me from the inside. Dull pain, from temple to temple, fills my entire body. I experience agony like one of my father’s steel splicing pins is being stabbed through my lungs . . .and then it’s over.
I release my grip on the handlebars and the jet-ski spirals gently downwards while I drift in slow motion towards the surface. Half dead with a last despairing kick of my legs, I force my head into the blessed air of Playa del Coco. Gulping and coughing up gouts of sea water, I tread water and await the arrival of a rubber rib which is veering in my direction from the shore. A rope is thrown and I grab it. I am being towed towards the shore where I dimly perceive Armando jumping up and down.
Strong arms belonging to two of Armando’s henchmen haul me up from the surf and I stand shivering, naked but for my paratrooper boots, before the wrath of the irate proprietor who has just witnessed the loss of his livelihood.
“¡Estábas en una situación muy peligroso, imbécil!”
“Voy a pagar, señor Armando.”
My offer to pay restitution does little to diminish his anger.
“¡Idiota! Idiota! Todo lo que usted es bueno para es borrachar!”
I am only too aware that all that I am good for is getting drunk. I break down and start to cry.
“Lo siento seriamente, Armando.”