I swam with the tiger sharks and survived!

I am not big on New Years Eve, never have been. Maybe it is because in Canada where I grew up it arrives shortly after we see the darkest day of the year, hardly feeling celebratory. Also knowing that the coldest of winter weather is still to come and months will be spent trapped inside, wrapped up in bulky sweaters trying to keep warm (especially when you’re monthly rent doesn’t include the heat and hot water bill) doesn’t usually lend to making resolutions that last. So a few years ago I started making resolutions on my birthday, after all that is the beginning of MY year not just a day on a calendar.

This year I resolved to stop being bound by my fears, to force myself out of my comfort zone to do the everyday things that I avoid because I feel scared. I decided to start with scrubbing the hull.

Donning dive gear and scrubbing the hull is not a new activity for me. Every month or so I do it, and I like doing it. But I usually have the option of waiting until we are anchored somewhere calm, the water is clear and I have 10M or so of visibility, preferably I can see the bottom. In fact those are kind of my rules for getting in the water at all, dive gear or not. I don’t like swimming in deep water.

I don’t like not being able to see what’s out there…watching me.

Where we are moored in Port Vila it is 35M or so deep and the visibility is not great, clouds of particle and not much sea life. On a very calm, clear morning I can see maybe 5M of coral crusted mooring line before it disappears into the murk. On a scale of 1-10 for me wanting to get in the water these are -4 conditions.

So I double dared myself to scrub the hull on my birthday back in July, doing it without Steve on board keeping an eye on me from the cockpit, a roll I like to call “Shark Watch.” I have never actually seen a shark while cleaning the hull, and since I am only going 2M down there is not much risk involved, I can easily make it to the surface if I have equipment failure. He is there for my own piece of mind, my mental safety net.

Then someone local said there sharks here. And not any old sharks, tiger sharks are occasionally seen by divers on the wreck nearby Kate. My birthday plans were scrapped; I was definitely not going in without my “Shark Watch” guy.

I was really hoping I could put it off until we moved the boat to a shallower anchorage, but one quick look overboard and it was obvious that wouldn’t be an option. Forget the garden hanging off the hull, the prop was a bouquet of weeds and the paddle wheel and depth sounder would surely be fouled, who knows what the engine coolant water intake would be reduced to. Moving Kate with that much growth on her could be considered dangerous.

After 2 Months sitting still
Weeds on the prop after 2 Months sitting still in Port Vila harbour

It was time to stop talking and start doing. It was time to dig out my wetsuit (purely due to water temps and not because I irrationally like to think it would protect be from a sharks bite…just a little).

Suiting up
Suiting up

And after week of mentally preparing for it and several minutes sitting on the rail contemplating my eminent death I took the plunge.

They are down there, I can feel it

It was a blustery day yesterday, Kate was swinging around on the mooring and there was a bit of current running with the tide. I have never mastered neutral buoyancy so it is always a bit of a task to stay where I want to while diving. And boats are designed to flow through the water which means they don’t have a lot of hard edges to hold onto. Pushing against an object to scrub it while simultaneously trying to hold on to the slippery thing and not pop up to the surface is hard work. I found enough to keep my mind occupied and calm.

My only encounter with sea creatures was colony of small fish near the prop and a crab that was hiding behind the rudder, neither were happy about me destroying their homes. There were a couple little shrimp that were too busy fighting each other to worry about me and a beautiful translucent string of jellies blindly floated by, flashing and wriggling its way past. I didn’t see any sharks.

Then again I wasn’t looking into the shadowy beyond too closely.

Looking good!
Looking good!

It took me almost two hours of scrubbing to clean the bottom. It was covered in weeds and soft coral that brushed away with a nothing more than a dollar store scrub brush and some serious elbow grease, not to mention some shoulder strain. I was tired and getting cold when I climbed back on board but glad that I hadn’t let fear stop me from doing something I normally enjoy.

I swam with the tiger sharks and survived!

Finishing up with a antifoul mustache and all limbs still attached.
Finishing up with a antifoul moustache and all limbs still attached.

Or at least that is my story, and I am sticking to it.



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