Messages in the sky

January 17, 2008

I took my girls (that’s four), my friend Tony and his daughter (that’s a total of seven bods) out for a sail on Bucket, our catamaran.

Bucket is affectionately called Baby Hoby at our sailing club because she is the smallest hoby cat in the club. I often take large groups of kids and friends out on Bucket. The serious sailors always laugh.

“You have quite a handicap there”, they have been known to jibe as they pass me weighted down with passagers in a race. They can’t understand my point of view of sailing in a race without a competative bent (that is, just for fun).

The conditions on this particular day were not as windy as the day before and there was less of a swell, so I took my boat load out for a long sail into the bay far from the club. We were enjoying the gentle sailing and the children were singing Disney tunes in harmony when the shark-spotting plane flew overhead.

This little plane is very distinctive. It is tiny and bright yellow with a little spoiler-thingy at its tail. It flies over the bay near us at around four or five in the afternoon every day. It usually flies straight over. However, last year it circled in the air a mere fifty meters out from the club. Police swarmed the beach and instructed swimmers to get out of the water. A seven meter white pointer had been spotted. Up in the clubrooms there was a lot of excitement. A race had just finished and the race officials up in the control room, with a first storey view across the bay, were certain they saw the large dark shape. Our children, who were playing near the boat ramp were determined that they saw its fin surface near a power boat too close for comfort. It was very exciting. I texted all my friends and acquaintances the news. My brother’s reply was the funniest: fish and chips for everyone!

From Bucket we watched the little yellow plane.

“That’s the shark-spotting plane”, I said for the benefit of our guests. “Last year it circled about there because a seven meter shark was spotted”.

Just as I said this the little plane’s engine changed pitch and it did a turn. Oh shit! I thought to myself. “Ready about”, I said clamly to my crew.

I quickly turned bucket around to head back for shore. I was on a beautiful straight tack to the club. However, right at that point in the drama the wind dropped! We were still over a hundred metres out. For once I was wishing I didn’t have the extra weight on the boat. With just one or two people she can fly. Poor Bucket laboured with her boughs deep in the water.

“So a seven meter shark. That would be almost three times the length of this boat”, Tony pointed out.

“Ah yeah”, I said. This I already knew.

The wind picked up. As I sheeted in the sail and Bucket started moving with some speed I noticed the little plane flew off in the other direction. My eldest daughter commented on this fact. She and I had both been secretly antipating the plane’s movements in a state of unspoken but shared anxiety. Had it completed its circle and not just done a U-turn, our panick would have been acute.  As it was it was just mild heebie-jeebies. I made a bee-line for the shore anyway. That was enough sailing excitement for me for one day.

Today when I was jogging along the beach I heard a plane in the distance. I looked up expecting the shark-spotter, eventhough it was only midday. Out in the bay I saw Bucket’s colourful sail. The hub was out there with Emma and one of her friends. The tide was out and thousands of funny little soldier crabs were socializing on the sand. A little dog ran with me for awhile until his owner called him back. The sound of the plane got louder and I could see it was not the little yellow plane at all, but a biplane towing a large message on a banner. I watched it approaching waiting to read the message. It was written in large red letters on a clear background:


My first impulse after laughing was to share it with my kids, “Hey guys you have to come and see this”. But I knew it would be gone before I got back to the house. The humour in this message was for me to enjoy alone.



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