Why we love the sea: The wild life with Monty Halls (and Reubs!)
22:02 GMT, 21 September 2012
Monty says we love the sea because it represents the great unknown
The reason we’re all attracted to the sea is that it represents the great unknown.
As long as there is a horizon, we will always want to see what lies beyond it. This urge has driven mankind since time immemorial – the promise of fertile fields and boundless riches causes us to undertake hazardous voyages to distant lands.
Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that my present gentle pootling along the coast of Devon has anything to do with exploration (although if you said that to the wide-eyed youngsters we take to see grey seals, they might disagree), but I have done the odd trip in the past that has had the whiff of a true expedition about it.
To plunge into the sea off Tamil Nadu in India and watch the ruins of a sunken city appear out of the gloom, to roll into blood-warm water off South Africa as the languid forms of tiger sharks materialise around you, and to look into the jet-black depths of the Gulf of California at the approaching lights of Humboldt squid – all of those sensations will stay with me.
But, in all those years of exploring, I have never been as nervous as I was taking the boat out last week.
The run-up to the trip was cloak-and-dagger stuff, with several people involved, all operating along the lines of the terrorist cell system.
This demands that each person knows only just enough about the operation so that if they’re caught they won’t compromise anything under interrogation. Operation Proposal was under way.
It all started with Linda (who runs the splendid local pet shop, where you’ll find invariably find Reuben whenever he goes for a wander).
Last month, she asked me if I could take her son Roscoe out in the boat as he wanted to propose to his girlfriend Bex in a suitably remote setting.
Being an old romantic, I immediately agreed. The trouble is that Dartmouth is a fairly small place and once the jungle drums start beating, any secret is doomed.
With a week until D-Day, it was crucial that everything was kept under wraps. An elaborate ruse was created – that Linda had won a trip on the boat in a raffle, and was donating it to Roscoe so he could have a nice day out with Bex.
Monty loves taking a plunge into the sea
I was looking forward to it until I took the boat to be fuelled. The gent who mans the fuel barge let out a dry chuckle when I told him where I was going.
‘Ah yes,’ he said, ‘I was chartered once by someone who wanted to propose. The only snag was that his girlfriend said no. That was an enjoyable trip home, let me tell you.’
The possibility of the ultimate awkward social situation suddenly reared its head – a voyage back to the quay with weeping passengers and me making desperately shrill small-talk. But it was too late.
I picked up Roscoe and Bex from the quay, coming alongside spectacularly badly as my hands were greasy with sweat. Happily Roscoe looked considerably worse than I did – positively ashen in anticipation, and put his lifejacket on backwards and upside-down. We then headed out (for Roscoe at least) into the great unknown.
The chat en route was hilariously incompetent on my part, a stuttering commentary that saw Bex glance up in alarm at what appeared to be a gibbering buffoon of a skipper. As Roscoe’s pulse rate was akin to that of Bradley Wiggins on a challenging Alpine stretch of the Tour de France, he didn’t really notice.
For real tension, put an Englishman in a confined space, faced with a potentially terrifying social situation
I finally stilled the boat in the shadow of Dartmouth Castle, and stood back (well, as far back as a man can in a small boat) so Roscoe could do his thing. The sun peeked out from behind the battlements, he went on bended knee, there was a beat of time as he asked the question, and then a thrilled acceptance from Bex. Cue a long exhalation of relief from the skipper.
You can take your sunken cities, your tiger sharks and your marauding tentacled predators. For real tension, put an Englishman in a confined space, faced with a potentially terrifying social situation.
Thankfully, the sun shone, Roscoe held his nerve, and Bex looked as happy as anyone I’d ever seen. Mission accomplished.