I had always wanted to go on a holiday which included instruction in painting - watercolours or oils - I didn’t mind which. I never thought I’d be able to afford such a luxury, but a windfall on the lottery made my dream come true.
I went on a rather more extravagant painting holiday than I had ever dreamt of. I went to the Caribbean. My fellow artists were a rarified mix of well-heeled men and women with artistic intentions, and our accommodation was on a tiny, private island, in individual bungalows that were the last word in luxury.
Each day we went out with one of three teachers. Some days we painted landscapes or the luscious, tropical vegetation on the island, and other days we went out in a motor launch with on-board catering to paint the many moods of the sea and its interplay with our island and others nearby.
Early in the second week we were out on the launch, visiting another island. We had spent the morning painting the waves breaking dramatically on a rock formation which jutted out of the sea just off shore. We had moored in a cove for a swim before lunch, but were told to keep clear of the kelp bed which showed as a dark mass a few yards over to the left. We were mostly back on board and our waiter was just about to serve cocktails when we heard a light aircraft approaching. It was a seaplane, with floats instead of wheels to allow it to land on the water.
The startled waiter dropped his tray of glasses on the deck and wailed in despair.
“Oh, no! Pirates!”
The skipper sprang into action, ordering us to get below decks, but there wasn’t much time to do anything before the pirate ’plane started firing at us with a machine gun. Paradise had in a matter of seconds turned into hell on earth, or rather, on the sea. Several of my fellow artists were gunned down in cold blood, surprise hardly having time to register on their lifeless faces as they dropped to the deck. The waiter was a prime target, and I watched a crimson stain spread across his pristine white shirt as he sank to his knees, whimpering.
Panic-stricken, I looked around for a means of escape. I didn’t dare make a dash for it across the open deck. Those of my companions who had made it below decks were screaming and sobbing. I cowered behind a life preserver, waiting for the next sharp retort from the machine gun. But it never came. The ‘plane’s engine sounded more distant. I risked a glance from behind my protective cover. Yes, the ‘plane seemed to be circling for another run at us. I knew I didn’t have long to make my move.
A spark of an idea formed in my mind. I sprinted towards the rail, pausing only to grab a long, curly plastic straw which was rolling about on the deck. It was the only straw left. The others had presumably gone overboard when the waiter dropped his tray. I slipped between the railings and dropped into the sea, keeping the pink plastic straw firmly gripped in my left hand. I managed to reach the kelp bed just as the aircraft turned back towards us, the sun glinting maliciously on its windows. I dropped down into the leathery kelp, with the straw in my mouth just breaking the surface of the water so that I could breathe.
More machine gun fire, and it sounded like the ‘plane had landed next to our launch. No doubt the pirates were helping themselves to wallets and jewellery, meanwhile murdering everyone in cold blood.
After swallowing a couple of mouthfuls of sea water I managed to balance with the swell of the ocean, keeping my straw, my lifeline, just above the surface and hoping that I was hidden sufficiently from view. I almost laughed, remembering a James Bond movie where he and a glamorous companion had hidden in a creek, breathing through straws just like I was doing.
Me and my straw were playing a waiting game: how long before the pirates spotted me and shot me like a sitting duck? Could I keep on breathing through my straw until they eventually tired of their game and took off once more? And what sort of sharks or other dangers lurked in the kelp bed?
By Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015