Chance Encounter

“Tim, get ready to jump in!”

He wants me to do what?

Dazed, I look towards the skipper, perched in his wheelhouse atop the 33-foot charter vessel. He has just cut power to the twin turbo diesel engines and the boat is now drifting eastwards, between the township of Narooma and Montague Island. The skipper wants me in the water but I’m not ready for this. I’m afraid.

The Sunday morning sky is blanketed by grey cloud, while the ocean looks cold and dangerous. I’m reluctant to leap off the back of the boat into such foreboding looking waters. This seems reckless. I had planned to get into the water at my destination — Montague Island — not halfway there. What if something happens to me? What about predators?

I’m reluctant to leap off the back of the boat into such foreboding looking waters. This seems reckless.

I’m not paranoid about sharks, but I’d be lying if I claimed to have no fear of them. There is a seal colony on Montague Island and I’m aware that a white shark’s diet switches from fish to seals once they reach maturity. Our location in deep water and the overcast conditions means I’d be blindly leaping into the ideal environment for a Great White to rocket up from the dark depths and ambush an unsuspecting mammal, namely me. Why increase my chances of a fatal encounter?

Several meters off the port side of the rocking charter vessel, dark fins break the surface. Damn! I’ll regret it if I don’t leap in now! I don my mask, slip into my own fins, step off the back of the boat, and surrender my body to the waves. I’m jolted out of my dazed state by the cold and I swim furiously towards the slicing fins, only to find a dark, silent, and empty ocean.

I’m alone, a vast expanse of black water beneath me and the boat I arrived on drifting further away. Fear wells up like indigestion, constricting my chest, making my breathing shallow. This is crazy! I imagine my fellow divers back on the deck of the boat wrestling with their own fears. My impulsive leap into darkness though has emboldened them and Bonnie arrives beside me, closely followed by Paul and Danaë.

I’m alone, a vast expanse of black water beneath me and the boat I arrived on drifting further away.

Companionship with my fellow divers helps keep my fear under control but my heart sinks as the empty ocean around us means we missed our chance for an amazing encounter. My mind drifts to the previous night where, drink in hand, and safely in our rented holiday house, I sat and listened to my companions talk about their careers and interesting lives. My insecurities led me to compare my life to date with their lives. The result? Melancholy and an all-pervasive sense of wasted opportunity hung over me before getting on the boat this morning.

I often find myself in this mental state. I lament my life is passing me by, only to have an unplanned experience present itself as a tonic for my woes. Drinking it though is unpleasant. It is not the stuff of uplifting memes, it is bobbing around in a cold, dark ocean or worse.

A series of high-pitched squeals and strange clicks reaches our ears. In water, sound travels over four times faster than it does in air. The particles in water are much closer together and quickly transmit vibrations from one particle to the next. Pinpointing where the sound comes from though, is almost impossible.

Out of the gloom, sleek, ghostly shapes materialise. Impossibly fast and beautiful, they circle around us …

Photo taken by the author between Narooma and Montague Island.

We spin around, trying to locate the source of the odd sounds … and we see them. Out of the gloom, sleek, ghostly shapes materialise. Impossibly fast and beautiful, they circle around us in ever decreasing circles and examine us closely while conferring with each other in their strange language.

The encounter is soon over. Back on the deck with my dive buddies, my heart begins to ache for the now absent beings. As the boat motors towards Montague Island and the waiting seals, I know we all just shared a deeply profound and meaningful experience. Unplanned for, but one that will never be forgotten.

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