I suck less at snorkelling

Foooo–ishhhhhhh…. Foooo–ishhhhhhh…. Images flit through my mind of Darth Vader, or perhaps a morbid future self hooked up to a ventilator, but as I practice snorkelling in the Airlie Beach lagoon, I’m concentrating more on making it feel ok to breathe through a snorkel than anything else.

As you may have read a few entries previously, I had some difficulty on my last snorkelling adventure. Essentially the thought of having my mouth below the water level and inhaling posed quite the neurotic mental challenge, and limited me to fleeting glimpses of the Great Barrier Reef as I struggled against my own inadequacies.

But with the next snorkelling trip fully booked, this time to a calm spot in the Whitsunday islands, I’m attempting to reprogram myself sufficiently to enjoy it. And so I’ve bought my own snorkel, and found a spare hour to go to the free local lagoon around the corner from the hostel. I might have skipped this experience, but Laura just pushed my spontaneity past some kind of mental energy barrier with some gentle cajoling and I went with it.

And after the first length something definitely begins to shift inside my head. Here, with the ground solidly underneath me, no pressure to take photos, no awkward flippers, and the ability to whip off the mask any time I like, I’m more able than ever to keep it on. Blocking up my nose with plastic still doesn’t feel comfortable, but it does take on a sense of the familiar.

And the benefits of snorkelling come into play. No longer is the water a murky ether swallowing my body, instead it’s a different universe into which I can peer with a newfound vision.

So when we get on board a small raft and jet off to Whitsunday Island, I wonder if the skills will be transferable.

We’re tossed around on the boat for about 50 minutes, which is exhilarating if somewhat anxious – I felt the need to cushion myself at the tail end of most bumps. Then we take a walk on the island itself, up a steep path through dense vegetation and in an oppressive and humid heat. But it’s all worth it when we arrive at the lookout and see the ‘swirling sands’ of Whitehaven Beach, and beautiful spiral of clear blue sea and bright white sand.

Then we get to walk down to the beach, where the sand is hot underfoot, and the water refreshingly cool. We grab lunch from the boat and try to keep the food the blowing off our plate in the wind – with plenty of seagulls ready to pounce on any adventurous pieces of lettuce or ham.

Then, in a surprising act of cruelness to those less accustomed to the sun such as myself, they left. The rays beat down upon me and my poor sunburnt feet (one of the few places of me left unprotected by the stinger suit (or as the tour guide keeps calling it: my sexy suit)), and shade is too far back up the beach, so for 15 minutes I bury myself up to the ankles and curl up into a ball to minimise my heat absorption. Some pity comes from Laura and she stands near and provides some human shade, but the sun is high overhead and she casts a selfishly narrow shadow.

When the boat returns I wonder if my homework will be undone; my thoughtful preparation foiled by conspiratorial overexposure. Some queasiness rolls over me but it could just be the aggressive speed of the craft as we throw ourselves on every unsuspecting wave around the island.

Fortunately there is no rush to don snorkel equipment, and I’m relieved to hear they won’t be handing out flippers – now I don’t need to turn them down, I’m actually taking all the intended equipment (their reasoning was that flippers may damage the reef – understandable given that it was very shallow in places). I give myself some time to get comfortable with my mask (a far superior model to my own, happy to sit on my face without trying to consume it), and take a ‘noodle’, a floatation device that you’d be forgiven for mistaking as a draught excluder. They had plenty of them. Oodles, or so I am informed.

With sunstroke at least keeping a polite distance, ocean queasiness staying at bay, and a sense of determination, I jump into the water and assess my situation. After a few seconds I conclude: I’m floating comfortably, breathing feels less alien, and there’s no pressure to swim a great distance back to the boat. Biting down gently on the snorkel tube, I submerge slightly and discover something else: I can look and breathe underwater without panicking.

Using the noodle I get a really good look at the coral this time, and can study the schools of fish just below me. It’s fun to point at things underwater with Laura as we can both peer into the deep for extended periods.

After about half an hour, we return to the boat, then see a turtle just off the other side. It’s a bit of a fleeting glimpse, though, and after I hurriedly jump in after it, I quickly lose track of its position. But still, I saw one.

After a bumpy ride back to the mainland I depart with a sense of overcoming not so much a fear, but at least a hampering neurosis.

Now if I can just get over my fear of swallowing medicinal pills, I might start to resemble a human being.

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