The dive master assured me that the inner reef was safe. The big sharks couldn’t get over the reef rims, he said.
What about the smaller sharks? They still bite. They still kill.
And, what about in the channel? The channel was deep, boat deep. If boats could circumnavigate the reefs, so could sharks!
I was scared of sharks and crocodiles, no, petrified, but the pull of the underwater world was greater than my fear. I was going. The opportunity to scuba dive did not present every day and I was taking my slice of heaven.
Fear is an alien. Fear is an alien, I told myself as I geared up and jumped into the channel.
No immediate hit from a shark. I wondered how long it would take. I hoped I died instantly. Suffering was not really my thing. A recovered catholic, these days I figured the suffering was best left to the pious and insane.
Wonder if the sharks could tell the difference between a catholic and a protestant? I was protestant actually, just raised as a catholic.
Dive master hand signalled. Time to slowly descend.
I loved the minutes before a dive where Dive Master and his guppies checked hand signals, weights, tanks and safety precautions. I mostly loved it because it heralded the descent into paradise beneath. Here I was now, descending, but keeping a close eye out for sharks. I’d punch a shark if it tried to eat me now I was this close to my beloved reef. There was no way I was up for dying on the verge of the most magnificent scenery on earth.
Water is boring – opaque and endless (plenty of clear space to see those big dark shadows coming!) The ocean floor on the other hand, is fascinating and ends the opaque boredom of a descent. Rills of sand and dimples of substance reminded me of the moon surface. I hadn’t been to the moon, but I had been to the ocean floor. I LOVED the ocean floor and could happily fish down there for ever. The floor began to rise, to take shape, to serve up her pallet and to teem with waving, flickering, darting and pulsating glory.
The reef….oh the reef. The colours, the movements, the Nemo families, big fish, little fish, feathers, brains and rocks: all were provided to me as a smorgasbord of artist’s material to build life anew. I didn’t really need to build life anew; I needed to build a way I could stay in the depths for ever. I loved it.
Was it possible for the underworld to be this gorgeous? Perhaps I was stoned and tripping out. I’d had a reef experience alright; more like a reefer!
I reached out to touch the soft and hard corals, the shells crawling, resting and swimming before my eyes. I groaned in ecstasy into my breathing apparatus. I was enamoured. Surely life could not get better than this. It did.
A turtle swam beside me. He was huge, slow, spotted and he cocked his head to observe me for as long as he could while he pulled away from my position of stationary disbeliever. If it was possible to stand open mouthed at the floor of the ocean that would have been me. I was his groupie, his slave and his future wife.
The Turtle’s flippers acted like underwater paddles and I imagined an enchanted rowing boat, living a magical pirate’s life under the sea, pulling slowly away from the land lubber descended.
A second turtle swam to join its mate. Instinctively, I went to follow. Frantic hand signals caught in the corner of my mask. Oops, Dive Master warned me I was swimming to the edge of the outer reef, to a very sharp drop where HUGE sharks liked to patrol in hope of an easy meal – a meal that became so blinded by the magic of the Great Barrier Reef that they forgot what lay in wait on the other side of the barrier.
Blinded I may have been but etched into my memory and place of sensual existence is my first scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef.