Thursday, 27 January 2011

What's a hammerfor?

Captian Ahab takes a dip
January 2011

There's an old joke that goes "what's a hamerfor? - for banging in nails with of course!".

My pinhead hammer got me into a world of trouble at the weekend. I had been busy finishing the fitting of the new cooker in Wand'ring Bark and had packed up my tools ready to leave. They were all in my big toolbox which I hauled out of the well deck but as I tugged it under the cratch cover by favourite pinhead hammer spun into the canal next to the bows of the boat.

That's where I should have left it but the water was quite shallow and I could see it sitting on the bottom with the hickory handle floating straight up by the base plate. H'mm I thought, I could reach down and get that.

I stripped off all my upper clothes and laid down on the jetty and reached down through a thin layer of ice into the gin clear water below. The depth was deceptive but I was so close to the handle. I shifted my position and reached down again - just reaching it this time with the tips of my rapidly numbing fingers. Having got it I lifted it to my mouth and swung myself back up again, or at least that is what I intended to do. But instead of my torso rising my legs went up into the sky and my head went down into the ice. I hovered there, see sawing up and down but all the time slipping oh so slowly off the jetty.

Time to panic. One minute I was fine and the next I was sliding head first into an ice filled marina - help! This hanging in the balance experience felt like ages, but it was probably only a few seconds. One thing was sure - the £6 hammer wasn't worth it so I opened my mouth and let it drop back into the water. Whilst one arm was on the jetty the other was unsupported and there was only the smooth bows of the boat on the other. I scrabbled vainly for a grip on the rubbing strakes but to no avail. Finally, with my torso gaining a downward momentum I grabbed the little projection which supports the bow fender and levered myself up just before my icy fingers lost their grip.

In the event I emerged with nothing worse than a cold arm, scratched fingers and bruised ribs - and a certain loss of personal pride. So all is well that ends well.

But it made me think about how difficult situations rush up on us when we least expect them. How we can unwittingly place ourselves at risk when a moments prior reflection would have told us to step back. It reminded me of a retired lady on the Thames who was preparing to enter the water near a reservoir inflow to save her dog. Luckily, we came along and hauled it out with a boat hook from the safety of the stern cockpit, thus saving the day and quite probably the lady's life.

One minute we are fine and the next we are at real risk of death. It makes you think how fragile our grasp on life really is. More on that subject in a few days when I review the film 127 Hours.

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