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St Maarten: Power rafting

I’ll be honest, I’m not an adrenalin junkie. Still, with two teenage boys there are always compromises to be reached, and this explains why I find myself strapped inside a big yellow life jacket, crashing along in a high-speed power rafting boat with two huge outboard engines turning the sea behind us to foam, the spray stinging my face.

St Maarten: Power rafting
Philipsberg, St Maarten Image: Trish Hartmann / CC BY 2.0.

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My teenage sons, Sam (19) and Charlie (16), perched right at the back of the boat are beaming and clinging on for dear life as Captain Pierre performs ever more elaborate turns. One lady’s sunglasses fly off. I say a small prayer.

Soon, though, we slow to a stop and drop anchor at Creole Rock, where we don snorkel and mask and plop into the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea. Pierre passes me an urchin he’s picked up from the bottom and I’m suddenly the centre of attention — people swim over, craning their necks to get a glimpse of the strangely soft but spiny white creature. I’m happy to pass it on to other more willing hands and go back to exploring the reef.

We swim right down to a helicopter nestled on the seabed, rotor blades now fuzzy green. Something silver and the size of a dinner plate swims alarmingly close to my bare legs and a stream of bubbles reaches the surface from a delighted Charlie, who’s face to face with a small shoal of dazzling neon fish. After the helicopter, Pierre guides us to the wreck of a small fishing boat, where I laugh into my snorkel as a tiny crab scuttles along the submerged hull and, despite myself, realise that this adventure stuff is great fun.

Exhausted, we climb back onto the boat for a short, mercifully slow ride to our last destination: Happy Bay beach, where, free of all our snorkelling gear, we dive into the turquoise water and swim up to the whitest sand beach I’ve ever seen. I flop on the sand and sunbathe while the boys sit on the inflatable sides of the boat, chatting with the crew.

On the way back to the harbour, egged on by the boys, who manage to ignore my pleading eyes, Pierre goes even faster and we slam into the waves, bottoms smacking against the plastic bench seats. We stop briefly just offshore near a small beach. Pierre promises us a surprise, and very shortly our ears are filled with the roar of jet engines as a huge plane comes in to land seemingly feet above our heads.

This is Maho Beach, where aircraft come in so low to the airport, there’s a danger of being swept off your feet. He shows us some alarming selfies on his phone, grinning while an enormous plane looms behind him. The boys wonder if we’ve got enough time for a quick visit to do some plane-spotting, but I’ve had enough excitement for one day.

Stepping off the boat and retrieving our flip-flops back at the harbour, we thank the crew and the boys chatter excitedly as we walk back to our ship. I’ve earned some serious mum points and, more to the point, have discovered that adventurous doesn’t mean scary. I might actually be first in the queue for the snorkels next time.