Saturday, July 4, 2009

Shark attack.

When I was far too young I saw Jaws. Ever since then I’ve had both a fascination and extreme fear of sharks. I loved watching nature programs about them but could also freak myself out in a swimming pool imagining that there was a shark in there somewhere – like freak myself out to the point of having to get out of the pool. One of the reasons I decided to finish my certification in Utila was that I’d read that there were sharks further down the coast. I figured that I already had enough stress on my hands with that silly mask skill and didn't need to throw sharks into the mix. Now that I had the certification, I’d forgotten about the possibility that we might meet a shark while diving. How quickly it would come back to me.

In the morning, I tried to have breakfast but my stomach was still doing flip flops. I wasn’t sure if that was my nerves or the remnants of my stomach bug. What ever it was I decided to skip lunch so I’d be okay on the dive. Plus, the sea was looking pretty rough and I didn’t spend my time on the boat hanging our the edge throwing up.

At the dive centre, we met our divemaster, Leandro, and the other guy diving with us, Michael from Denmark. He had all his equipment and I assumed he was a hardcore diver but he’d just finished his certification in Norway and all his equipment is brand new for the trip. In fact, he spent most of the briefing interrupting to ask how to work his dive computer and bcd. The British have a saying that sums him up: All the gear but no idea. Thankfully, Leandro, although he looked about 12, was calm and experienced and patient. My relief was soon replaced by worry when I saw the boat. It was small and I immediately worried about how I’d get back in it after the dive and, more importantly, how it was going to stay afloat in the day’s big waves. Leandro told me not worry and pointed to the small ladder being loaded on. Okay, so that was one concern taken care of but the waves weren’t going anywhere. Sure enough, as we headed out to the dive site called the Garden, the small boat was tossed about and we were fully airborne at least twice. It was a bit too much excitement for me. But it was just the beginning.

In order to get under the water where it was much bound to be much calmer, I had to attempt a back boat entry. I'm not scared of it now. But that first time I was terribly frightened and sat on the edge of the boat hanging on for dear life. Leandro suggested I could put all my equipment on in the water. But I saw the huge waves and quickly decided to take the backward plunge. Even with a flotation device holding us up, the waves continued to crash over us and we submerged as soon as possible to escape them. Unfortunately, the visibility wasn’t the greatest and the reef looked a little lackluster thanks to all the silt but we did see some small rays, lots of parrot fish and a whole bunch of sea cucumbers which looked like giant alien slugs. It was so relaxing and calm under the water that when we resurfaced I had forgotten just how crazy the waves were. But they worked in my favour, pushing me up out of the water and into the boat.

The worst was far from over. On our nailbiting trip back to the dive centre to get new tanks. Michael made the mistake of sitting at the front of the boat. After one too many times of being thrown up in the air, his butt was more than sore so he climbed over the benches further back into the boat. Thankfully, while the new tanks were loaded back into the boat, the wind shifted and the waves calmed down. YAY!!!!!

We headed back out to our second dive site with the uninspired name of 05. I wasn’t expecting much especially since Leandro told us we wouldn’t see anything at first. So I was surprised when we got under the water. The visibility was better. The coral was in better shape. And there were tonnes more fish. Halfway through our dive, Leandro pointed over to an overhang of coral. He made a hand signal, one I’d never seen before. I looked over expected to see another fish. There was nothing. I looked again and then realized what he was pointing at. It wasn’t a small colourful fish; it was a gigantic 2 metre, grey-coloured shark lurking under the overhang. My heart jumped up into my throat and as my momentum carried me towards the coral and the shark, I tried to swim backwards. When that failed I peeled off from the front of the group to the back, and hoped if Jaws got hungry it would pick someone else off first (not Adrian of course). Leandro all but laughed at me, and when I looked back at the shark, it hadn’t moved and appeared to sleeping. Okay so Jaws wasn’t going to make lunch out of one of my limbs today but I didn’t dare get any closer. Even as we swam away along the reef, I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t following us. I think we saw some pretty amazing fish too, but all I could remember was the outline of Jaws under the coral.

Once we were safely back in the boat, Leandro informed us it was a nurse shark and almost completely harmless. Instead of rows of razor sharp teeth as big as our hands, it has a gummy denture-free mouth. I was still a little shaky having come face-to-face to a childhood fear but Adrian decided that he really likes diving now. Appropriately, we had fish and chips for dinner that night. Too bad the fish wasn’t shark; maybe eating one would help me get over my fear of being eaten by one.

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