Five nautical miles from Roodepoort

Blog by Riaan van Zyl

I was 27 and lived in Knysna. One morning I woke up at a friend’s house after a braai. (I worked Saturdays.) Extreme panic set in when I realised it was 9.30am. I had to be at work at 9am. I got into my car only to find out the battery was flat. I jogged to my house, which was less than two kilometres away. My boss was going to have a hernia. ‘Disciplinary hearing” kept flashing through my mind as I huffed and puffed through the streets.

A strange sight greeted me at my humble abode. My best friend Deon was standing by his little bakkie (the Kalahari Ferrari) at the entrance. On the back were fishing tackle and beer. He was clearly agitated. “Where have you been?” he wanted to know. “I am late for work,” I shouted. Confused looks were exchanged. Then bluntly: “It’s Sunday, Riaan. We are going deep-sea fishing.” Relief washed over me.

I am not much of a fisherman and volunteered to be the ‘bartender’. We were four guys and two girls. It was overcast as we sailed through the treacherous Knysna Heads. About five nautical miles out, the girls became seasick. The skipper’s brother suddenly shouted, “A school of fish! Grab your rods!” From 11am until 2pm we caught 72 mackerel. (True story. This is not one of those tall fishermen’s tales.) When the school finally passed the macho skipper and his brother took off their shirts and dived into the ocean. I didn’t want to seem like the odd one out and with terror, which I tried to hide, followed suit. My time in the water ended up being a lot of clinging to the boat and very little swimming. We just got back into the boat when I saw it – a 2m long hammerhead shark sailing past the boat! I just swam with a shark! “They are not particularly dangerous,” said the skipper, not very reassuringly. It dawned on me that his particularly more dangerous buddies might have been in the vicinity as well. I felt alive.

Reliving this memory got me thinking. How many five-nautical-miles moments have I had since I returned to my hometown? I was shot at twice with live ammunition while covering a riot and once accidentally by the police with rubber bullets. That made me feel alive. I played a part in the arrest of Marthinus Pelser. That took me out five nautical miles. When my son was born I was sailing again. Meeting my wife made me feel alive.

How many five nautical miles do we have? Do we create them or do we wait for fate to push our little boats out into the uncertainties of the ocean of our lives? Do we need to be pushed or do we dive recklessly into the abyss?

I don’t know about you, but I am relentlessly going to pursue my next five nautical miles from Roodepoort.

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For free daily local news on the West Rand, also visit our sister newspaper websites Randfontein HeraldKrugersdorp News and Get It Joburg West Magazine

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Riaan van Zyl

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