Walking On Water – A Shark Encounter That Changed My Life
By Jackie Parry
Tahanea Atoll is part of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia. We anchored in clear, turquoise water a fair distance away from shore and the other boats already there.
We declined the offer of joining the other cruisers on a shark dive in the passageway – sharks weren’t my thing; I noticed Noel wasn’t that keen either.
‘They won’t hurt you,’ they said. ‘The sharks there have no teeth; they can only suck the flesh off your arm!’
We weren’t sure if this was a joke or reality; either way, the outcome wasn’t endearing.
We took time to assemble, pump up, and off load our large rubber dinghy; we wanted to snorkel on a reef.
With that job done, we puttered over to a coral patch, where we thought we’d be safe. This was where I learned I could walk on water.
There we were, having a jolly good time drifting along with the gentle current, watching colourful fish flash alongside vibrant coral. Noel swam about twenty metres in front of me, and something made me turn around. As I swung my head over my left shoulder, I practically touched noses with a blacktip shark. A cold rush of terror gushed into my belly as if a sluice gate had been opened.
Noting its teeth and bulky length at almost twice my height, I screamed, spun around, and flailed my way towards Noel. Running on pure adrenaline, I didn’t make the decision – fight or flight didn’t cross the wreckage of my mind, but clearly, flight had won the day. I can be calm when in immediate danger; meeting a shark so intimately had proven this wasn’t always the case.
As I thrashed my way towards Noel, I forgot to breathe, but my mind conveniently decided to voice its opinion.
You’re never going to out swim a shark! My thoughts tormented me; they were at odds with my physical emotions as if they were sitting back in a deck chair enjoying the show.
Any moment sharky is going to be enjoying lunch care of your left thigh.
But I couldn’t stop. I had leaped into sheer panic mode. I had no control of my actions, and it appeared that I couldn’t control my thoughts, either.
As I flogged my way nearer to Noel, he was blissfully unaware of my stress as he silently snorkelled in peace. He jumped two foot clear of the water as I grabbed his leg, clawed across his back, and sat on his shoulders.
‘What the.... what’re you doing, gerrrooofff!’
He pulled me down beside him.
‘Shark, there’s a shark!’ I scanned the area. Sharky was hiding somewhere, clearly having a good titter at my expense.
‘It grinned at me. It was so close I nearly kissed it!’ I said breathlessly. ‘I think we upset him by not going to see him with the diving excursion, and he decided to pay us a visit.’ Fear makes me ramble.
Noel laughed. ‘It’s okay. Let’s go over there. It’s a bit shallower, and we can regroup.’
We stood on a reef, where the water came to above my knees. I peered at Pyewacket, our sailboat, way off on the horizon.
‘At least the dinghy is nearby.’
‘Well, it’s a few minutes swim to reach it,’ Noel said. My heart did a little flip.
‘Will you let go of me now?’ Noel said as he tried to unpeel my arms away from his neck. I’d become a remarkable human form of Velcro.
‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ Noel muttered as he managed to free himself, and I turned to look. I knew his cool demeanour didn’t always mean the situation was cool. And I was right. My mate with the sharp teeth circled us, clearly revelling in our situation. He had us surrounded. Round and around he swam; his black beady eyes watching.
‘Shit!’ I can be so eloquent.
‘Let’s head back to the dinghy,’ Noel suggested.
‘And how do you propose we do that?’ I asked with my knees knocking. I had found the one thing scared me silly. I didn’t like any of it – the thumping adrenaline or trembling limbs. Blind panic and tremendous fear wasn’t something I experienced often.
I searched around the area and found two three-foot sticks to carry. I am not sure what I could have done if the blacktip fancied a munch. Perhaps poke him a bit and give him the hump? But it made me feel better.
Much to Noel’s amusement, I swam back to the dinghy in circles, so I could keep an eye on anything that lurked behind me.
That moment changed my enjoyment of dipping in the oceans forever, but I didn’t know I’d be gleefully jumping into shark infested water again… soon.