10 years ago today the Ironbath was in the most beautiful coastal town of Plettenberg Bay on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coastline following what is known as The Garden Route west from Cape Town. With the seasons reversed in the Southern hemisphere it was a warm Spring day, with a light breeze signalling an approaching storm. At that time the Ironbath had never seen a whale. He had been to several places where whales often passed by on migration but the Ironbath had always found himself in the right place at the wrong time.
The Ironbath was in South Africa on a two week trip to coincide with his 30th birthday. He had cycled at Cape Point, laughed at the Penguins waddle up the beach in Simon’s Bay, gone underground at the amazing Cango caves, toured the winelands, stroked a cheetah and even ridden an ostrich (really!). But the Ironbath’s main ambition for the trip was to see a whale – and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean around Plettenberg Bay was full of Southern Right whales and their calves.
The Ironbath was attracted to Stanley Island Gliding Club that offers short flights in a two seater motorised glider. The aircraft takes off under its own power, climbs to 3000 feet then the engine is closed off, then it is controlled as a glider bouncing off of the invisible pockets of air.
Moving swiftly through the air silently allowed the plane to pass over the whales at 300 feet where they looked like giant tadpoles in the turquoise water. The storm was building and it was a rough ride in the glider. For a while the Ironbath took hold of the controls, and without any power assistance, struggled to hold the joy stick level against the force of the wind.
The pilot realised that the storm would ground flights for the next few days and so was in no hurry to return. The Ironbath’s 30 minute flight stretched passed the hour. Eventually returning to Stanley Island where the grass air strip had been populated by moles so the custom and practice was to fly low over the runway as a warning to the team of people who were working to level the mole hills. They would run to the side as the glider banked sharply then came in to land.
And that is the story of how the Ironbath came to fly a plane for the first (and so far, the last) time on September, 11th, 2001.
Returning to Plettenberg Bay to buy some lunch the Ironbath saw a large crowd of people grouped around a TV in the child’s play area at the entrance of a supermarket. Unimaginable events in New York had just started to unfurl.
There can be no stronger metaphor for freedom than soaring through a blue sky day in a glider watching whales swim in the ocean. The storm hit the South African coast that afternoon replacing the blue sky with black clouds …. And the world was engulfed in a storm that has lasted the ten years since.
Ani DiFranco was in Manhatten where she experienced the mass evacuation and the feeling of terror first hand. She wrote this poem titled, Self Evident, as a response to the attack, and her anger at America’s foreign policy and the loss of values in society.
The Ironbath believes it is one of the most important pieces of social comment from the decade. The pictures in this video were added to the poem by a fan.