Alexandra Groom recalls how over-enthusiasm at the young age of ten led to a very long underwater rescue mission and ritual humiliation for years to come
The year was 2001 and my father had just bought a Jeanneau Prestige 36, which he kept on a berth in Beaulieu-sur-Mer (pictured above).
She was perfect for our family of three, consisting of a ten-year-old me and my mother and father.
After about a month of idyllic day trips pottering around the coast, my very trusting father gave in to my constant requests to be allowed to drive.
Growing up a complete petrol head, I needed to have my hands on the steering wheel at least once.
Careful to find a secluded patch of open water, under my mother’s watchful eye, my father and I swapped places so that I was in the driver’s seat.
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Apart from turning the boat gingerly to port or starboard to make sure I took a wave at the correct angle, my time in the spotlight didn’t consist of much excitement, but it was more than I had hoped for as a budding helmsman.
After about a minute my father decided that was quite enough and if I wanted to take it seriously I would have to get my license.
Pointing to an inviting looking bay, he allowed me to steer a course towards it before we swapped back.
While the Jeanneau was my father’s pride and joy, mine was our little inflatable Zoom RIB, with a 4-stroke Yamaha on the back that never started and a Jolly Roger fastened roguishly to one of the lines (Swallows and Amazons was my Bible growing up).
The set of plastic oars got much more use than the engine, which always seemed to have something wrong with it, but no one seemed to really mind.
On this glorious June day we were towing the tender behind us, on a line longer than usual to try to stop the boat filling with water from the wake, which always seemed to happen and involved a good half hour of bailing before I could get out and play, something which, unsurprisingly, I was keen to avoid.
As we got closer to the bay, my father motioned me to slow down. I remember thinking this was overly cautious, but I didn’t want to push my luck in the hope I would get another turn to drive when we left.
Eager to show I could be trusted, I overcompensated and slowed down too much, too fast.
The stern wave which had been trailing out behind us pushed my little tender closer to our transom, its long line now trailing underwater.
Of course, the inevitable happened. A few seconds later, we heard a loud whirring noise, felt a large thud and the engines cut out.
My poor little tender was now nose first underneath our swim platform, bottom up in the air, and its painter firmly wrapped around both of our props. And I still don’t understand to this day how it got around both.
The sea was pushing us further into the bay so we dropped our anchor to stabilise the situation.
My father thought it best to try to fix it ourselves, rather than suffer the humiliation of have someone rescue us from what looked like a rookie mistake.
Luckily, my mother was a competent diver, and armed only with a mask, snorkel and various sharp implements, set about cutting the props free from their rope prison.
My father meanwhile sat anxiously in the cockpit waiting for her to resurface, often after alarmingly long periods, and furnishing her with ever more terrifying knives in the hope one would cut through our brand new super strong tow rope.
After four hours of non-stop work, she succeeded in her mission but still has the scars on her hands to prove it.
I couldn’t do much except drown in my guilt, which my parents considered punishment enough.
I bought her a keyring soon afterwards in the shape of a propeller that she uses to this day, and I don’t believe I’ll ever live it down!
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