Thursday, 23 August 2012

Across the Bay of Kotor with Zoran

It wasn’t an auspicious start. Zoran, the skipper arrived at the jetty with a comic-strip finger, immobilised with splint and a thick wadding of bandage.
He noticed my worried stare. “Did it when I was sawing through a chain,” he explained cheerfully.
He hopped down off the pier onto his outboard dinghy and awkwardly unmoored the craft with his good hand. Having reached his fishing boat and anchored the dinghy, he returned to the jetty with the larger vessel. Well, he’d made it this far. Maybe he could make it across the Bay of Kotor?
We clambered aboard, my husband, children and I, the skipper’s children and grandchildren, a sullen husband-of-his wife’s-cousin with an upside-down smile, and a thick-set Croat-Serbian couple looking uncannily like a pair of bulldogs. Was it too late to jump ship?
Things didn’t improve.  Zoran was panicking because his keys were missing. Everyone combed the boat, peering under supplies of bottled water, scattered clothing and seat padding until at last the keys materialised under the skipper’s seat. Triumphantly, Zoran unlocked a cupboard and produced a large bottle of rakia to celebrate.
Zoran poured a generous measure into each plastic cup. Jelena held hers up to the sun and smiled, suddenly looking more human and less bulldog like.
“This is good,” she said contentedly. “Homemade rakia is the best.  Look how pure, maybe 60% or 70% alcohol.”
I gazed nervously at Zoran who grinned and knocked his rakia back in one.
“You know, rakia is so strong,” Jelena continued, “if you drink too much you can forget your name or get lost in your own home”.
I stole a glance at Zoran who was already on his second cup. If people got lost in their own homes, how was our skipper going to navigate the Bay of Kotor?  Zoran was now looking very relaxed. He’d abandoned his skipper’s seat and was stretched out next to me on the passenger’s seat on the portside, manipulating the wheel with his foot.
All around us the Montenegrin Mountains soared heavenwards. Zoran headed straight for a rocky shoreline at speed. It was only at the last minute that I noticed the Blue Cave. He inched the boat through the entrance. Inside, tiny bats circled us in the gloom.
I dived into cool water. Below me, scuba divers’ lights blinked in the murky blue depths. Surrounding me, the white rock of the cave reflected a paler blue.  At the far end, I could see the light from a second entrance. I swam across the cavern into warmer turquoise water. Only then, I saw Zoran was turning the boat and heading towards the distant entrance.
“Quick,” my husband called urgently. “Zoran must leave now.” Furiously, I swam towards the boat. Tom hauled me on board as Zoran headed full-steam out of the cave.
Back on shore, Zoran gave me a rakia-fuelled wink. “Your husband was sure I was going to leave you behind”.  I smiled weakly, relieved to be on dry land again.

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