We saw the dark clouds over the water too late. The tide was coming in, almost up to the trees, and the makeshift camp we had made on the beach was beginning to flood. In the jungle behind us we heard howler monkeys screeching a horrible, murderous call that made us too afraid to step foot beyond the open sand. It was getting dark and the approaching storm was moving quickly. We piled everything into our little dingy, but it wouldn’t start.
Some years ago, when I was much braver (or more reckless) than I am now, two other girls and I decided to spend a day out on a beautiful, isolated and uninhabited island in the Caribbean. We set off in the morning in a rented dingy full of provisions for the day (beer, by the way, should never be considered a provision) and went out to a small island we had seen in the distance. Seeking a quiet escape, we went around to a small beach on the far side of the island, hidden from the main island by a thick jungle. As far as I recall, we failed to tell anyone where we were going.
We spent the day blissfully wandering the beach and floating in the surf, feeling like castaways. But our castaway fantasy became a little too real as the rising tide began to fill our dead little dingy and a full tropical storm was fast approaching. To boot, I have a phobia of open water so acute that I was barely persuaded to get in the dingy in the first place. That morning I had been swayed into taking to the water by clear blue water, sunny skies, and a momentary sense of adventure that had since been superseded by an almost paralysing fear. I was willing to endure the Howler Monkey Jungle, hunger and night on the island if only it meant I didn’t have to get into that dingy. My companions, sensibly, picked me up and threw me into the boat.
One girl set to work trying to start the dingy while the other two of us began to bail out the boat with the only tools we had: empty bottles. It did start at last, but not fifteen feet from the island it died again. We began to paddle, with one oar and four hands, but the wind was picking up and the waves were getting choppy. Our little dingy got caught on a coral reef that tore a hole in the bottom of the boat. The water in the bottom rose and we bailed faster as one girl got out to push us off the reef, badly cutting up her arms and legs in the process. She steered us through the ocean, into the harbor, and at long last to dry land. The boat was destroyed. The hotel had been in the process of sending out a coastguard to find us. It was almost dark, and as we were helped out of the boat, shaking, near tears, deeply apologetic and relieved, the first few drops of rain began to fall.