Friday, 28 August 2015

Mr Big

Last day. We’ll be home tonight. We have dobbed from island to island, each day finding new things, mooring sometimes on the hook, at a quay, or – like this last night – on a buoy. Being in a buoy or at anchor gives you a quieter night but you have to get ashore in the rubber dinghy, and each of those journeys adds a perilous touch to me – I fear that my knees will let me down while I clamber in or out, or that my footing will slip, and I (plus handbag with precious camera and phone) will capsize. The men, with their longer thighs and calves, and more muscle and agility, can manage these manoeuvres with grace and confidence, but each time we go (or even when it is proposed), I have to contemplate this tiny disaster. No doubt this is good for me.
We have had breakfast and lunch on board, and gone ashore for supper each night.
There is a huge variety of boats, and some are stunningly beautiful. Leaving aside the classic cruising yachts, the Jadrolinija ferries and the pirate-style repro fish-picnic trip vessels, I really like the look of the Katarina line mini cruise-ships, of which there is a whole fleet. With the three decks, sweeping bows, and tidy woodwork, they make a fine sight and we wil perhaps come and have a holiday with them. They just look well run.
Last night, having purred ashore in the rubber duck (agh!) and walked about a mile through hot olive fields, along a road lined with heavy dry-stone walls, and with cicadas orchestrating our path, we were in Milna having an orange juice and watching the harbour. A big pointy boat came in, rather stealthily, edging its way in towards the quays, we became aware that the ‘marinero’ was clearing space at the moorings, and a handsome couple in a slick little launch were dodging about in an official kind of way. At first we thought this was a Katarina boat (one already being tied up), but it quickly became clear that his was a big private yacht. As the launch couple waved and signalled, the Areti started to circle and prepare to come in. This way and that she buffered about. She really was huge – would block out all our sun, and a small crowd started to gather to watch. Evidently Milna dies not often see one of these big fuck-me yachts – it’s more of a working port, and not really developed for rich tourists. It still has a fish-factory on the water’s edge, for instance, and boat-repair yards.
The Areti was – slowly – thrashing about. It was as if her captain really couldn’t bear the thought of docking. Huge black fenders were dropped over her immaculate sides. The beautiful young man and woman from the launch waited on the quay – wearing a smart uniform of white shirts and beige shorts – and sunglasses with mic attached, as did all the visible crew. The giant edged backwards, awkwardly. The waters churned as the thrusters argued with each other and the water. She came back, so slowly. More crew turned up – all with their sunglasses on – they never have to do this after dark, and looking cool is a major part of the operation. Mr Big demands total anonymity at the same time as total attention. This is the paradox of celebrity.
The boat was a few feet away from the dock, towering over us, and the crew had to get the lines ashore. They had skinny ropes with weights on the end, one at each corner. One of these was successfully chucked into the hands of someone on the quay; the other firmly bedded itself in the thatched sunshade roof of the café umbrellas where we were sitting. Larger lines were awkwardly brought ashore – the ship being at a very strange angle – with one stern corner about four feet nearer the dock than the other. A special gangway started to emerge from the lowest visible deck – quietly poking out about ten feet up in the air. As it extruded itself, a dark-glasses guy fitted bits of chrome handrail into it.
A small boy on deck, attended by a middle-aged lady, appeared to watch proceedings – was directing it all, as far as we could see. He was rather sweet, maybe 4 years old, and he was longing to catch the attention of the pretty girl who had been in the launch and was now standing on the quay. He could quite easily  - indeed would probably – fall through the gaps in the smart chrome gangway handrail.
The gangway poked out form the boat to the quay but when they tilted it towards the ground, it remained about four feet up in the sir, so a line of handsome young make crew members, all in dark glasses and matching snazzy uniform, brought out a succession of various tables, chairs, boxes, cupboards eye to try to make some sort of bridge. This included a large mat with Areti on it, which added a welcome touch. The handrail had a built-in fire extinguisher and an entry-phone system. The pile of wooden boxes and table-tops was arranged this way and that. Nothing seemed to work.
Meanwhile other crew-members in sunglasses and snazzy uniforms were working on the mooring lines. They brought out several, which they arranged in various criss-cross patterns, tying them up to the bollards and rings. One line was laid in a particularly awkward way, with three problems. First, it ran tightly above a near vertical ladder running down from the main deck, at very close range. This sealed that companionway off, or forced anyone using it to duck and climb around it. Next it pressed against the handrail on the ladder – so at various times the handsome crew brought out mats, towels or other bandages to try to prevent it from crushing the handrail. Each time they winched this rope tighter, they had another go at protecting the brightwork. Lastly, this rope lay directly under the electric gangplank on the far corner of the stern, and this definitely prevented the gangplank from being fully lowered…..
The little boy watched imperiously. The boxes were brought out and taken away again. Some sort of senior crew member came to pat the marinero on the back and slip him a little something. The crowd on the dock grew. The young café owner was told he had to move all his tables and chairs out of the way to allow the gangway to be lowered. The men working on the lines kept at their winch, loosening and tightening the thick blue ropes which formed a fine network to and from the dock. The pretty girl waved at the little boy who shyly saluted her. The gangplank was finally fitted with a set of trolley wheels and gingerly reached terra firma – albeit at a very sharp angle. The crowd on the dock was entranced – laughing, lounging, taking photos (inc yours truly). The café owner said he was confused and troubled – why should he have to move his café from the pitch he pays for, to make way for these people? We were all wondering who this Mr Big was – I speculated that the little boy was the one in charge – he took a keen interest in the whole process. Once the gangplank was judged to be properly installed, two long-legged girls tottered off the ship, Snow White and Rose Red, escorted by one of the sunglasses-crew.
This all took a good hour… And the huge vessel towered above the quay and buildings, with its four massive comms domes high above.
Once it quietened down, I asked some of the crew about who their boss was. They would not say, of course. One was Dutch, one was from South Africa and one from Oz. None had been to the Cayman Islands where the boat is registered. The crew numbers 16. They liked being private, discreet, about this week’s employer. This is what he pays for – flamboyant anonymity. The way his boat was parked, skew to the quay, was a perfect illustration.
After our supper in the Palma restaurant (too much to eat) we walked home in the bright moonlight, back through the olive groves, to our little bay at Osibova, and then in our rubber duck and back to our quiet, lovely Lady Olivia, patiently and elegantly on her buoy.
A world of difference.
A small chapel here on the rocks is alive here this morning with a service going on – hymns, nuns, a sermon. We have to pack. We’ll get to Supetar and get the ferry to Split, and the bus to the airport. Home tonight.
This heat, the misty air, the lapping of water on the hull, the shining light on the clear blue seas, all will be left behind.
The priests will come and preach their sermons to tiny congregations in tiny chapels by the water.
Children will swim in the bays.
The cicadas will fill the air with deafening sound.
The fish will drift under the boats.
Mr Big will never see it.

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