… to Malapascua, Philippines

The 7P principle

Odd, you might think, to write a travel blog about a place that you haven’t yet visited. But scuba-diving this remote Philippine island, lying off the northern tip of Cebu, will present something of a challenge for Johnny Sombrero and his trusty steed. And as the departure date approaches, as is Johnny’s wont before any trip (ask Juanita), he starts to worry.

It’s not that he’s alone. Ryan and members of Cheryl’s family will be there to provide all the support he needs. His concerns have nothing to do with the distance, or the flights, or the Hong Kong stopover, or climbing into the minibus for the four-hour drive north — or even the scuba diving itself.


The paraw dive boat

It’s getting on the damn boat. Ordinarily, this is my favoured method of starting a dive. You get driven to the site, you kit-up, you sit on the side like a frogman and, boom, there you are surrounded by bubbles, above what you came to see. Getting on a modern dive boat is also a cinch; you wheel along the side of the marina and balance onto the stern dive platform. Still in the chair, job done. Well, more or less.

In this case, the stem of the local vessel, a paraw outrigger, faces the beach and access is via a plank. For an able-bodied person, negotiating this requires no more than a few steps up (maybe with arms outstretched for balance/effect). For me, well, I’m still not sure.

Plan A

If the plank is wide enough for my arse-cheeks, and if I can get purchase on it with my hands underneath them, I propose to sit on it and bum-shuffle my way backwards, up to the stem. If someone is standing either side of me in case I overbalance and if a third helps me reposition my feet in front of me as I mount. I can see that working.

My concern is that, from a manoeuvering point-of-view, my arms and shoulders are all I have. And after decades using them to pull myself up from the ground into my chair, my shoulder joints aren’t as secure as they once were. They have no effect on my day-to-day mobility and, for weeks now, I have been exercising to re-stabilise these joints. I have made progress, but I don’t want to undo this good work by being manhandled.

And while I’m at it, helping me out of the water after each dive needs some thought too. After passing my kit up, I do not want to be dragged up by my wrists until my belly folds over the side of the boat. That will hurt. We should find a point from where I can be pulled up using a twist-lift.

IMG-20171002-WA0006Most sailors will be familiar with this method. The deal is,  from in the water I face the side of the boat with my upstretched arms crossed above my head. A crewman takes each hand. We start a plunging motion into the water and, on my count, we all lift on the upstroke, untwist the arms and (in theory at least), I end up sitting on the edge. Minimal strain on the shoulders that way.

If this option isn’t available, again, we will find an answer. I may end up being towed. As long as we talk it through first. Because, as we used to say in the Navy, Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance

Johnny feels better now. Andale andale muchachos!


Photos courtesy Cheryl Kng


… a beach wheelchair in Jersey

There are those amongst us who would rather eat worms than be pushed in a wheelchair. But I suggest it’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to paddle in the sea or build a sandcastle without getting bogged down to your axles.

Balloon-tyred beach wheelchairs are increasingly a feature of our seaside resorts. The Channel Island of Jersey has six of them, strategically placed on the biggest sandy beaches by the BeachAbility charity and ready for free loan to visitors and residents. For the less mobile a hoist is also available, but you may need to give notice to get it in the right place.

IMG-20170805-WA0002Johnny phoned on a whim one sunny Saturday morning and coordinator Mig said she could be at the Gorey site in 15 minutes. We needed a little more time than that but we soon met her in the Long Beach car-park, where the chair is kept in a small locked shed. The size of the tyres can make transferring tricky so a sliding board is to hand.

The previous day I had taken my standard chair onto the hard sand of le Hocq at low tide. Even if the way ahead looks flat and firm, there are soft patches everywhere and even with a Freewheel I soon got stuck. On the beach chair even the fine sand, above the high-water mark, was a breeze — for me obviously but for Chris and Pippa too. We rolled down to the sea and watched the dogs going loopy in the shallows.

I considered swimming but it would have been a scramble to get back on and, these days, I am taking care of my shoulders. And you can only go so far into the sea before the chair starts to float. I hadn’t thought of that.

IMG-20170805-WA0015We rolled back to the soft sand at the sea wall and bought bacon-and-egg rolls for breakfast. A simple pleasure and one I had not fully enjoyed for 30 years. Back in the car-park, the excellent Mig was waiting patiently at the shed, looking after my own chair.

Swallow your pride says Johnny, and enjoy the wondrous Jersey shore on more-or-less equal terms.