The water is choppy along the estuary today. But we’re out in the boat all the same. I’m sitting uneasily at the back, my new fleece pressed tightly around me by the comically huge life-jacket I have to wear. Its collar blocks the view either side of me, so I just grip the red, curved sides, and look straight ahead. With unwilling eyes I watch the waves jostling each other in their race to leave the open sea, and listen to the creak and slap of the oars as my dad rows to meet them. I don’t want to go any closer, and increasingly relate to the story of crashing doom that the waves are narrating to me. At least, I think that is what my pounding heart and rising panic are about. Dad is saying we’re going to try and surf the waves to the shore. Inside I’m shrieking ‘no!’ but my excited cousin’s enthusiasm pushes that down. The first time passes OK, but I want it to stop now. The frantic noise of the sea is frightening me; I feel like it is going to take over. Another go, they decide. The boat is turning sideways.
It is tipping.
It thuds against a sand bank. My dad’s disbelieving face tells me that I was right. I can no longer see him. The furious noise of the waves has been shut off. All there is is the sound of glugging and gasping. All I can see is the mottled white fibre-glass of the boat’s floor, then the water, then the white, then the water. They are too close to me. I want to get out, but my foot can feel the sand beneath me, and I know there is no room. In a tragicomic turn, my life-jacket has taken away my only hope of escape, as it stops me from getting under the water and out of this terrifying plastic, white, water spin.
I remember there is a man on the shore – why is he not coming to lift the boat off me. In my mind I see my mum running down the field as they pull me out of the water. I forget that my brother is in another boat beside mine, dealing with the terror of watching this scene from the other side. I wonder if I am going to die.
Then light, air, my cousin laughing. I cannot focus on anyone. I cannot speak about the hours of terror locked within that minute’s spin. ‘My new fleece!’ is all I cry.