Carrie and I stood on the deck of the 20-foot yacht our parents had rented for our vacation, billowing white sails above us and rich, dark wood beneath our feet. The air smelled of the ocean and the warm breeze of early summer swept through our hair. Our days had been spent sailing on the open waters around South Africa, and our nights were spent doing what we did best - being badass rebellious teens. At night, we slept in the belly of the yacht as it rocked gently back and forth. Good for sober nights, a circus otherwise.
One night while docked in Knysna, a small South African beach town, my family had dinner together at a local restaurant. After we ate, my mom and stepfather decided to head back to the yacht early. By the way, I lived with my dad, and Carrie lived with her mom, so we didn’t see each other all the time. The two of us exchanged a look that said, “Hell yes it’s about to go down,” and I was ready! Of course, we told our parents we were simply going for a walk. Yeah, right.
At the time, I was around 13 or 14, and Carrie was barely three years older than me. We were smart and confident, and while not completely irresponsible, we got a thrill out of taking risks. Like, occasionally, not the safest of risks. See, children grew up faster in South Africa. By the time she and I were in our teens, we’d already traveled a lot and experienced a wide variety of art, food and culture. In short, we’d seen some shit.
Carrie and I wandered onto the dock in our scuffed-up sneakers, hearing the wood beneath our feet creak and crackle. As we walked and laughed together, we noticed people gathering ahead – more shoes thudding on the dock, the noise of the crowd inviting us forward.
The Pelican seemed to appear out of nowhere. It was a rowdy pub. A slab of wood hung from the doorway – the enormous white and brown bird painted on the sign with the words “The Pelican” etched into the wood beneath it. Carrie pulled me into this crowded bar that smelled of beer and the ocean. Heading through the door, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a few heavy ropes dangling over the water attached to thick wooden posts next to the building. I shrugged and kept on going.
We marched through The Pelican like we belonged there. This wasn’t the first time we’d gone into a bar, and definitely wouldn’t be the last. I mean, it was the nineties. Despite having no IDs, Carrie managed to get us a couple ciders from the bartender, and we settled in to throw back a few with the locals. The fearlessness we had in our teens amazes me to this day, especially today.
These folks were rambunctious. They were a wild group of artists, hippies, fishermen and doctors. Most of them were already drunk, laughing and having a great time, and we were loving it. However, before Carrie and I even had the chance to finish our first drink, we were drawn to the sound of cheers outside. Looking around, it was quickly determined we weren’t the only ones. Not wanting to miss out on any of the action, the two of us crept around the drunken mass of locals to find out what was happening.
Almost as soon as we’d made it outside, we saw it. A young man laughed and shouted as he flung himself from one of the ropes I’d noticed earlier, catapulting into the water with a giant splash. Swings! The ropes were all gigantic swings! With a splash, he catapulted into the water. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!
The bartenders kept serving more and more drinks as they watched the scene unfold.
Tons of howling bar patrons were suddenly grabbing the ropes and launching themselves into the ocean from the dock, too. Fortunately, there were people nearby helping their drunk, soaking wet friends haul themselves out of the water, wrapping them in towels while continuing to have a total blast.
This explosion of spontaneous joy somehow lasted only about 20 minutes, but it was totally worth it. Carrie and I couldn’t believe we’d been lucky enough to have been there for the whole thing. Our minds and spirits were carefree, and I believe it was likely our youth that allowed us to embrace this moment of sheer celebration, seemingly cut right out of a movie, and revel in the thrill of it all.
After the ropes were returned and people were able to collect themselves, she and I headed back into the bar. We sucked down another cider or two before finally sneaking back to the yacht.
Once back on the boat, we spent the next few hours laughing our asses off and reliving everything we’d seen as our parents slept on, totally oblivious - that’s what we always thought. In truth, our parents trusted us to be responsible and recognized that in growing up, we had to experience life on our own terms. They always knew what was going on, though, and for this, we were fortunate.
I will always fondly remember that trip. There was the ocean, the sailing, the laughter - our parents. Carrie and I had an unforgettable adventure that night at The Pelican, getting away with having a few drinks at the pub with no harm resulting from our shenanigans. We were young and free, diving into the best life had to offer.
Every summer has a story.
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Lizelle van Vuuren
Founder, Lizelle & Co.