“Fly me to the moon and let me swing among the stars,” sung the great Frank Sinatra. No thanks Frank I am afraid of heights.
And I can remember to the exact day that I found out I suffered from acrophobia. I was around seven years old and we went on a school trip to a lighthouse. It wasn’t even really that high, but the problem started with the endless spiral staircase and when I got to the top whilst everyone else was admiring the view I was clinging on “white knuckle” style to the rail not looking at anything but my feet. From that fateful day I have tried to keep my feet as close to terra firma as possible.
Don’t get me wrong I have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State building, but I always keep a good respectable distance between myself and the rail guarding the edge. But at some time you have to face your fears and conquer them. “Let’s try parasailing,” I heard from over my shoulder last week. Parasailing…doesn’t that involve dangling high in the sky with only a parachute stopping you from crashing to certain death? “Yes, why not,” I answered, thinking that it would be a long way in the future and I could think of a relevant excuse to avoid going. “Great I have booked this morning in Cavtat, we have to leave in 30 minutes,” answered my wife!
“Jump onto the boat and we will explain everything when we get going,” smiled the friendly parasail instructor as we skimmed like a pebble across the Adriatic. My first thoughts were, why are there so many ropes, harnesses and clips. I was soon to find out why.
“OK, I am going to strap you into this device which will hold your weight on the parachute,” added the instructor. Hold my weight! What if it doesn’t hold my weight? The ropes and straps wrapped around me like a spider’s web, some of them in rather sensitive parts of my body. It was like having a permanent wedgie.
“I will go first,” why did I say that. The instructor and his assistant grappled with another pile of ropes and then a huge parachute unveiled into the sky. “Lie down and we will strap you in,” was the next instruction. It sounded like an order Mr. Grey would give. Now fixed to the billowing chute there was only one way to go…up. The engine of the speed boat roared, the parachute filled and like a sack of potatoes I lifted off the boat and was left hanging over the sea. “Ah, this isn’t so bad if I fall or something breaks I will land in the sea,” I shouted down to my wife. She put her hand to her ear in a cupping shape as if to indicate that she couldn’t hear. I was up. And I was climbing. 10 metres, 20 metres, 30 metres, 40 metres...if I fell now the Adriatic would be like landing on concrete. I was still climbing. The speed boat below me was now just a white stain on a turquoise sea.
Would I stop going up? “That’s enough,” I yelled. But silence. In fact that was the first thing that hit me, it was completely silent up there, I mean dead silent. The only thing I could hear was the occasional rustle of the chute behind me and nothing else. A seagull flapped by me. “And you thought we couldn’t fly,” I started chatting with him. I was hanging over the Adriatic with only a few millimetres of nylon in the chute to save me from a tumbling freefall.
Somewhere down there is my speed boat
And yes a first it was a little scary but I got over it. I had faced my fears and was high in the sky. Then from nowhere I heard a noise like a car engine, only a deeper sound. What the hell is that? It was getting louder and louder. I couldn’t hear myself think. It was behind me. I carefully flipped my weight and looked over my shoulder. Thundering towards me was a plane!
OK, maybe not exactly towards me but it sure felt like it. I imagined the passengers looking out the window and seeing me hanging off a parachute. I raised a thumb and jerked it backwards in the motion that a hitchhiker would do on the side of a dusty road. I was hitchhiking a plane, a Norwegian Airlines jet; I hoped that the passengers could see me. Then a jerk on my harness and the rope was being winched in and me with it. With the grace of a sack of potatoes I came to land back on the boat. “You guys are bloody mad...where is the toilet?” I joked with the instructor. “You did well, we took you to 100 metres,” he answered. I had a feeling that if he had had more rope I would have got even higher. “No wonder I hitchhiked a plane then,” came my reply.