The Bond of Survival

I first met Shawn Mackinga an American balloon pilot in Australia in 1989. One month later we were on a marlin fishing boat that was wrecked by a 7 metre wave. I was being bashed around in mountains of foaming, swirling, angry water, gasping and swallowing salt water. I was drowning. My lungs filled with water, my mind was yelling “no air, no air. I am going to die”.

My spirit left my body and floated above me to my right. I heard my voice, calm but insistent. “Kick your legs. Keep kicking Ruth, notice where your shirt is”. I broke the water surface not wearing a life jacket and found myself surrounded by the debris of fishing lines and hooks. Blood seeped out of a large head wound above my left ear, settling around my left shoulder and dripping into the sea.

Shawn broke the surface close by, swam towards me and grabbed hold of my left hand. We were caught in a strong rip, both being dragged further out to sea. For over an hour in the cold rough ocean Shawn supported my limp body. We were eventually rescued. That’s another story.

If I ever feel anxious about any activity confronting me, my thoughts take me back to surviving my near death ocean experience. I recall clearly – fear will drain my energy/positive thoughts will restore. I work to chose the latter every time.

Seven years after that fateful ocean experience I reconnected with Shawn in Switzerland gas ballooning together with Regula Hug-Messner. Recently I phoned him at his Swiss home to ask for his help. “We can’t find a life raft for hire that won’t break the bank. Will you search locally for us” I asked him. When Shawn came back with no life raft but with the offer of at least 2 life jackets, the irony was not lost on me.

Both Tanys and I are hoping for a land flight with no over-water. But we now have water safety gear thanks to Rien and Shawn – Immersion suits to combat hypothermia and/or life jackets.

Then we found our Balloon Meister – Detlef Gocke from the Munster Balloon Club. And Tanys secured our chase driver with suitable vehicle to tow the balloon trailer. The pieces were falling into place quickly now.

Then Tanys called me and said “I’ve bought a GoPro”! The race has taken on an additional focus. I doubt either of us will be doing live in-basket commentary but we shall need to find a willing supporter to manage our social media or at least a dedicated Facebook page.

What will tomorrow bring?

Shawn Mackinga & Regula Hug-Messner