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Darkness is falling fast. I’m alone in a vast ocean, struggling to keep my head above the waves. Any hope of rescue is fading. I’m a mediocre swimmer at the best of times, and it dawns on me that I won’t make it through the night.
I’m still contemplating my watery grave when I feel a massive wallop against my back, like a punch, slightly above my left kidney. What the hell was that?
I swirl around. Then — bam! Whatever it was hits me again in exactly the same place.
Suddenly I’m electric with horror: it’s a shark. I know from watching TV documentaries that some sharks bump their prey first to identify it. Fear and desperation bubble up. Through the deepening gloom, I spot it — sleek and silvery, about two metres long and coming straight towards me. Its jaws are slightly open in a sinister sneer.
I feel my heart hammering in my chest. As the shark approaches, a powerful surge rips through my body. My survival instinct, primal and raw, takes over.
It was meant to be a wonderful holiday: ten old friends would meet up in Indonesia to go surfing off the beaches of the Mentawai Islands, which have some of the best waves on the planet.
Most of us were in our early 50s and had done pretty well in life. We’d be leaving behind our wives, our boardroom meetings and cumbersome mortgages. We even had an excuse: one of us was celebrating his 50th birthday.
The Mentawais are in the middle of nowhere. So we met up in Padang in Western Sumatra and chartered a boat to make the ten-hour journey across a perilous stretch of water, more than 100 nautical miles wide, called the Mentawai Strait.
By the time we boarded, we’d all sampled the watery local lager — so we named our trip the Ten Green Bottles Tour. It felt like a real adventure, particularly when we sailed straight into a spectacular storm.
I awoke abruptly at 1.30am to the pounding of the boat as it crashed into massive swells. And then the retching began, no doubt helped along by a dodgy-looking pizza I’d had for dinner.
Finally, at 2.15am, I stumbled out to the upper deck to get some air. After spewing over the side, I remember feeling dizzy as I looked down at the white water churning beneath me.
My last conscious thought was: if I’m sick like that again, I’m going to pass out. The next thing I knew, I was somersaulting, tumbling, as if I were in a washing machine. My head filled with a roaring sound.
Next I became aware of walls of water that rose from the surrounding darkness to swamp my face, flood my nose and wash down my throat. I coughed violently and opened my eyes.
I was in the ocean. The wind was howling. Perhaps 30 metres ahead, our boat the Naga Laut, its deck lights pulsating through the storm, was moving slowly away.
Time crawls by. Is drowning painful? Will there be a white light? Will someone or something come to take me? I don’t want to be alone. Incredulity hit. Could this really be happening? Surely I’d snap out of this in a second and somehow be back on deck.
But I could hear the boat’s diesel engine grinding against the roar of the wind, and for a moment its acrid fumes reached my nostrils. ‘Hey!’ I screamed. ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’
But the sound was stolen away by the waves, wind and rain.
Reality dawned: no one had seen me fall. I suddenly found it hard to breathe. I knew. Inside, I knew. This is where I would die…