If you’ve read any of our articles you’ll get the idea that we have had quite a bit of life experience. Some of those experiences have been very challenging – near death and life threatening, some absolutely wonderful and life affirming.
One of those experiences was one about pushing through fear. I had accepted a job on a shark fishing boat. I had no experience at sea, was totally green and had never spent more than a few hours on the water up to that point. I was also wonderfully optimistic, open to adventure and incredibly naïve about what I was to embark upon.
The skipper was very patient. He was following his dream, built the boat himself from an old flat bottom 60-foot barge installing a 27-ton freezer unit in it to store our catch. We would be at sea for weeks. I was hired as muscle and had to learn boat and fishing skills.
First night at the wheel after some instruction the skipper had gone to have a quick nap thinking that little could go wrong, we were well clear of any sea lanes, and we’d got the net away cleanly. I had to keep the boat drifting on a certain compass point after which we would drive up the net and check on any catch. Well, driving a car and driving a vessel at sea backwards at night with no reference point other than the compass are totally different as I was soon to learn.
After about an hour the skipper came up to check on how I was doing. I said fine but the steering is a bit sluggish. He looked at me, ran to one side of the boat then the other, jumped into the wheel house and turned to me with the most incredible expression on his face. It wasn’t anger or frustration it was more amazement as though he was thinking” how did you manage to do that?”
Thinking to keep the boat straight I had managed to wrap the net around the boat at least twice. That’s not easy to do and it takes a certain type of inexperience to accomplish that feat. Not only that, we were unable to steer or start the motors and were drifting with the current closer toward a rocky outcrop about a kilometre away.
All of this came in a flash of insight as he said “You need to go over the back of the boat, clear the net from the prop and the make sure it is free so we can get the motor started and get away from the coast, and you need to do it now!”
Well, that thought while present hadn’t been foremost in my mind yet when it did arrive it came with a massive boost of adrenalin as my heart rate soared. I did tell you we were shark fishing didn’t I?
So, the water was pretty murky and my imagination was working overtime as I climbed over the back of the boat and jumped in behind the props. Taking a deep breath I submerged feeling my way down under the stern and further down to the top of the large propellors. With the way my heart was beating and what I was imagining about to happen to me I ran out of air and threshed my way to the surface. I mean seriously picture that – I was sure that there was some big noah circling the boat just waiting for me. Down I went again, same thing.
“How do I get some level of control over this” I thought. I have to take action. The skipper was also looking at me from the top deck and I could tell that if I needed any more motivation it would probably be that if I didn’t resolve this issue I likely wouldn’t be getting back on the boat.
I’m pretty sure in my hyper-aware state that I could see regret written on his face. Regret for taking me on board two days previously, when slightly intoxicated, I as a cleanskin had said I’d take the job of deckhand.
Now, even then I was no stranger to danger it’s just that none of my previous extremes had been on the ocean or related to sharks and very murky water. I knew that I could get it done I just had to get control over my reactions and to do that I had to change my thinking.
At that point I gave up. I literally told myself to stop imagining the worst and that if my time has come then it’s going to happen so focus on what needs to be done and if it happens so be it.
Down I went and started easing the net off the props swimming to surface as I needed to, to breathe and then diving back down. You could only see about two feet in front of you. Just enough to locate the net and where it was fouled or caught.
The relief when it slipped off the prop and started to slide along the hull was palpable and, unfortunately, short lived as it jagged on the zinc anodes placed on the hull of most large vessels to stop electrolysis. At least I could follow along and swim under the boat my fear dissipating as each small success meant I would be safely back on board soon.
Obviously, I was successful as here I am. I even became a really good fisher spending a few years working on boats and trawlers across the top of Australia however I have never forgotten the lessons learnt very quickly on one scary day in the Coral Sea north of Bowen.
I think Jack Canfield, author of “Chicken Soup for The Soul” got it right when he wrote “everything you want is on the other side of fear”. In fact for me I know he’s right.