ASS-UP IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA
Today I present another anecdote from my travels in South East Asia.
Some years back I was holidaying in southern Thailand with a good Kiwi friend of mine with whom I had worked in Washington DC. Brendan and I decided to visit an island, Koh Larn, which lay off the coast. We, plus Brendan’s Thai wife, Ya, and my Thai girlfriend hired a speed boat and took off. Sadly, fifteen kilometres off shore the boat flipped at high speed. Fortunately all of us survived but were left clinging to our upturned speed boat with no safety vests. I lost one of my precious cameras.
For near on two hours we clung to that boat, hoping someone would find us. How, I had no idea. However, in the distance we ironically stared at a massive US Naval flotilla that had arrived in port the day before to provide R & R (rest and recreation) to seamen who’d been at sea for 130 days. All up we saw two massive aircraft carriers and ten big destroyers.
Then, out of the blue, a young Thai boy on a sailboard appeared. He was about eight years-of-age. He had not come from the shore but from the ocean. All of us screamed, hollered and pleaded with him to get help. The kid said nothing, just gave us a magnificent smile and sailed off.
Soon after five jet skis arrived in a flurry of noise. The drivers picked us up and returned us to the main beach, where I crawled on the sand, grateful to be back on land. I’d made a great attempt to stop smoking a few days before, but landing back at the beach I begged a tourist for a cigarette and was back on the bloody durries. After reporting the incident to the tourist police so I could make an insurance claim for my expensive camera when I returned home, we all went and had a few beers; grateful to have been found and rescued. That day was the first experience I’d ever had with ‘divine providence’. I mean, why did that gorgeous Thai boy appear just where we had overturned? He had an entire ocean to sail in. Secondly, what in the bloody hell was he doing so far off shore? Anyway, we did compensate him the following day. We caught up with him and his family and took them all out for dinner.
The very night of our rescue, my Girlfriend and I were having a drink at a local bar, waiting for Brendan and Ya to appear for dinner. As you can imagine, there were sailors everywhere, bars were packed and US military police and Thai police were ever present. The entire city had been swamped by seamen wanting to enjoy their time off. From memory there were 110,000 sailors on shore.
At the bar, I started chatting to some mature-aged yanks and told them of our experience that afternoon. I especially told them how I’d clung to our upturned boat, staring at the US fleet in the distance, hoping one of their helicopters might rescue us. The yanks were interesting blokes, especially the eldest guy, Lachlan. He was very approachable and humorous and we had a lot in common. He’d spent a few years working at the Pentagon in Washington DC. At one stage Lachlan shot off to the toilets and one of the other guys in their group informed me who he was. He was the Commander of the fleet. Gob smacked, I looked at the yanks and said what most Aussies would have said.
‘Well I’ll be buggered.’ The yanks laughed. So did my girlfriend who’d become accustomed to my swearing.
That evening, Brendan, Kai, Ya and I shouted the four yanks to a splendid Thai dinner at a restaurant a mate of mine owned. It was a top night. The following day we were invited on a tour of the biggest bloody aircraft carrier I’d ever seen. God, it was massive. We also had lunch with the Commander of the fleet, who slipped me a $100 US donation for our orphanage as I left the aircraft carrier. Lachlan and I stayed in touch and he and his wife, Sandy, made an annual donation to our orphanage. Lachlan died in 1992 in Virginia, USA. I’m bloody glad I met him. Good bloke – top human.
Clancy's comment: Mm ... Sometimes I wonder. It can't have been my time to die, and I'm still here years later.