Sunday, October 21, 2012

R.I.P


Sailing is one of those gentleman sports. It is man against the elements and there is something noble about that. When the wind fills the sails and you can feel her mast and hull taking the strain before there is a steady surge forward, man is somehow made more alive. Perhaps there is some spiritual connection between man and that which fills his sail, somehow when those sails bulge full it strikes at the core of being man. In our modern era we have many variants of sailing. Even though in my younger years I was an avid sailor, today I practice sailing of a different kind. I have wings allowing me to sail, not on water, but on air. There is something ancestral and deeply satisfying in that. And I have had the privilege of sharing that with others, which have resulted in close and cherished friendships.

One of the most clich├ęd sayings I know goes something like this, “it’s blah blah blah… what matters is how you get back up” – oddly it reminds me of Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer – but given the dramatic events of late; the complete lack of sharks during the most booked part of our season and the devastating fire, the recovery of the Underwater Centre has bordered on nothing short of the miraculous – in no great part due to the organising skills of Glynis and David. Within two days they had set up a kind of field dive centre right outside the hotel on the grass and it was business as usual. It has been so effective that guests were none the wiser about the recent tragedy – which gets me to my point.

Tragedy.

I have recently received an email about the death of a friend and I am astounded about how deeply it has affected me. Tragedy seems much more appropriate here. In part, it is the reason for me not keeping up with my blogging – not that I am making excuses but as far as excuses go… Well, let’s just say I have not been in the mood for much lately.

Todd Stuntzner and I met in Seychelles some 7 or 8 years ago. He was working for Helicopter Seychelles back then and as is so often the case, over time got enchanted with this little micro-light – how else when Todd was sitting in a comfy helicopter cockpit at 1000ft while hearing the radio transmissions from a tiny-micro-light flying at 6000ft. If this does not stir your interest as a pilot you just do not have flying at heart. It was inevitable that Todd called me to go for a flight in the micro-light. We became friends to such an extent that he ended up visiting me in Wilderness the year after. Todd also learned to hang glide and as so often happens, the intimate time one spends with students on a training slope when learning to fly like a bird establishes connections and builds bonds way out of the norm. Todd was an awesome guy, a gentleman, a fellow hang glider pilot, aviation enthusiast – someone whom I with great honour ended up calling my friend.

After his stint in Seychelles, Todd moved back to the US and he took up hang gliding as a sport, often keeping me updated on his new found flying exploits as a hang glider pilot. I enjoyed his emails, picking up on the excitement of experienced gained and the satisfaction Todd got from sharing them with me, the instructor, the man whom he perceived as having given him some great gift. In this day and age of bits and bytes Todd would send postcards, finding clever ways to express his joy and appreciation of having learnt to hang glide. All those times it was I in fact, who realised it was me who had been given the great gift.

The email from his parents came as a shock. They had only recently gained access to his email friends list – but Todd had passed away in the end of May of this year, along with three of his friends when their light aircraft went down while on their way to a fishing weekend.

Oh, I guess I have to mention that the sharks have finally decided to make an appearance. Of course, whilst our change in whale shark luck might have come as a result of prayer, or the appearance of carnivorous plankton, and that it was perfectly timed to lift our spirits, especially after the dive centre went up in flames, I could not fully share in the joy of this. We have had sharks for the whole week. The afternoon shark dives have been so successful with as many as 11 sharks dived on by happy customers, all in just one after noon. It was like old times and not. The interns too have finally seen what these enchanting islands can really be like, while tourists, fresh off the plane and totally ignorant of our last month’s ordeal were totally mesmerized by the sharking experiences. And while it was something to behold when these islands decide to turn on, I could not fully share in it. It was strangely surreal to think that someone who had experienced the islands joy with me was no longer alive.

Given the state of my mood it is impossible not to reminisce about past good times and of course friendships. Friendships that, like the wind filling the sail of a yacht, momentarily send you on an exhilarating broad reach and then quite suddenly, leave – the wind taken out of your sail, quite literally. One is left pondering the memories while it is inevitable that you realise you have been moved, physically and spiritually. You are changed forever.

It seems good friends have a way of doing that. RIP my friend.

Wish you were here…



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