Stranded at Sea

A few weeks ago I was asked by Gavin, a friend of mine who owns a language centre here in Weihai with his wife, if I could help him out. He is the proud owner of a boat that he has built himself, though it was moored off a pier around a 45 minute drive away down the coast. He needed to sail it back to Weihai’s International Beach, as from there he could take it apart and store it in his garage next to his apartment on the seafront before winter set in. With the weather forecast promising calm conditions and sunny skies I was more than happy to go along for the ride.

Early the next morning I met Gavin and his wife, Tansy, down on the beachfront, where we were picked up by one of their friends to take us to the boat. First impressions were unconvincing. It was unlike any boat I had envisaged, or ever seen before for that matter. It could better be described as more of a floating pontoon. However, Gavin was clearly very proud of it and it seemed seaworthy enough. Besides, it was far too late to back out now so I buckled up for the ride.

It started out very pleasantly, the day truly was a fantastic one to head out on. There was a slight chill in the air, though that wasn’t exactly surprising considering it was mid-November. We slowly chugged our way past countless fishing boats and traps for all kinds of creatures in the depths. It turns out that Weihai is extremely important for supplying seafood to the mainland, catching fish, mussels, clams, squids, lobsters, crabs. Anything and everything the fisherman here can get their hands on. However, the most valuable catch is sea cucumber. The local speciality dish of Weihai, these can be immensely valuable fetching up to £1000/kilo. After around half an hour we were making good progress, especially considering that we had to navigate our way through the maze of fishing nets to avoid them becoming tangled up in the outboard motor.

Then the engine stuttered and died.

Before we had cast off I had noticed that the petrol tank on-board was looking rather low. When I pointed this out to Gavin he had said no need to worry, the indicator was usually wrong and he had done this journey countless times and was sure that we had an ample amount. As it turned out we didn’t. We were barely halfway and there was no-one to be seen, save a single small fishing boat around 100 metres away from which two elderly men were trying their luck. My companions shouted to them in Chinese, telling them what had happened and asking if they paid them if they would take one of us ashore to fetch some more petrol and then bring that person back out to the boat. They laughed and went back to their fishing, clearly uninterested.

We sat around for over half an hour, waiting to see if anyone else ventured by. Thankfully the sun was still shining so the wait wasn’t as bad as it could have been, though the wind had picked up which wasn’t as pleasant. Eventually we saw another boat approaching with occupants that turned out to be much more helpful. Around an hour later we were back on our way with a full tank of petrol, and I was able to get back with just enough time to get to my class. I can’t imagine what the faces of my students would have looked like if I told them that the reason I was late for teaching was that I had been stranded at sea.