Facing your fears

I originally entered this blog into a competition about facing your fears. That was a year ago, and although I didn’t win, they did publish my story as part of a book containing all the good entries. Writing blogs and articles is all very new to me, so I was pretty chuffed that my story had been included. This is not quite the original entry, as I’ve included more recent experiences. I hope you enjoy it anyway….

Hi, my name is Denise and I’m afraid of waves


Whales, she said whales!!

Um no! I said waves, and besides who could be scared of whales they’re delightful?

Yes….. waves.

More silence.

You do realise you live on a boat, you are a SCUBA instructor, and you’ve spent your life on or near the water? You’ve windsurfed, stand up paddle boarded, white water rafted, canoed, and snorkeled your way around the world. Bloody hell, your nickname as a dive instructor was Oceangirl!!! You can’t be serious??

Yup, deadly serious. But, just because I am scared of waves doesn’t mean I don’t love the water.

Let me explain a little further.

Waves are unpredictably inconsistent and I don’t like that about them.

It took a particular water-based event for me to “remember” that I don’t like waves.

As dive instructors, Jamie and I, were looking for an activity to do when it was too rough to go diving.

A frequent occurrence in South Australia where we live.

Surfing seemed like the obvious choice, so down we went to Middleton beach, rented some boards and paddled out. About 30 minutes into it though I “remembered” that I don’t like waves.

Now to be clear, teaching diving in South Australia is no walk in the park, the gulf is a particularly dodgy bit of water and it is often, well, not great. But as a diver or instructor you spend very very little time on the surface, and being under the waves is wonderful, doesn’t bother me at all. Having a regulator and BCD (buoyancy control device) means that even if a wave crashes over me I have control, of both my breathing and my ability to stay afloat.

Being in waves and surf though, is very uncomfortable. Waves are very powerful, and they take away any and all sense of control that you might have.

We own a catamaran precisely because I do not like boats that heel, I don’t like being that close to the waves. Our catamaran elevates me a little higher and the lack of tilt makes me seem more in control (even though I am well aware it is an artificial sense of security).

Our first test passage, an overnight sail to East Diamond Islet from Airlie Beach some 220nm was a real test of my ability to talk myself into doing something that made me feel REALLY uncomfortable. And I found that rather than the length of time in rough weather making me feel more unsettled, the fact that I couldn’t stop, couldn’t escape actually helped. The relentless waves bashing the side of our catamaran gave me confidence, with each hit, we didn’t die, the boat didn’t sink and I started to realise that both the boat and I were stronger than I thought.

Our passage to Norfolk Island from Elizabeth Reef pushed my mental strength a LOT further. The wind and waves built up rapidly as night approached. Jamie kept looking at me and asking what was wrong, oddly for me (a chatterbox at the best of times) I was near mute.

I was certain that should I actually express how scared and unsettled I felt I would cry.

I was certain crying was NOT going to help. As luck would have it I would be up on watch alone in the pitch dark (of course no moon) in the worst weather I’d ever experienced onboard. This has since been surpassed, but to be honest not by much – it was a really shitty passage.

The first hour was the toughest, the second (having not died or sunk) slightly better, by the third I was almost back to normal. I was soaking wet and my hands and feet were cramped from bracing and holding on, but I had done it - alone. Listening to music and singing helped immensely. I had dabbled with Audible books on other overnight passages, and Jessica Watson’s book, True Spirit, about her solo unassisted sail around the world was great to listen to on our lovely passage to Lord Howe Island. Can I say though, Ellen MacArthur’s book, Full Circle, was a nightmare. In no particular order, she de-masted, pitchpoled and rolled a variety of boats way too many times for my liking. I had to turn her book off multiple times and change to music as each catastrophe occurred. I eventually finished that book during the daylight in good weather. Word of advice – it’s a good book, but do NOT listen to it at night in bad weather unless you are seriously insane!

Jamie later told me he found it incredibly difficult to leave me up there looking as I did.

Looking at our Youtube footage weeks later (no we didn’t shoot any of me actually mute) I was shocked to see that even on the following day I looked shattered and exhausted. It’s rare that you get to step outside yourself and see what you look like when you are struggling. I was not a pretty picture and that was 18 hours later!

Reflecting back on how I felt when we did these passages, I am amazed at how bad that passage actually was. Both Lukim Yu and I really struggled. The boat not emotionally but physically. Upon investigation when we arrived in Noumea we discovered that the bulkheads (the structural parts of the hull) on the starboard side had come off the structure of the boat and were ripping away further and further with each bad wave. We had these massively reinforced in Noumea and since then Lookie has been rock solid.

Other passages since then have been challenging for a whole list of reasons – massive lightning squalls (Vanuatu to Solomon Islands), sleep deprivation (all of them), poor health (Jamie with his dislocated shoulder and flu like symptoms that plagued us from the Solomons to PNG), and the sheer frustration and despair that hit us on days 5-8 of our 10-day passage to Indonesia from PNG.

So, my advice for overcoming your fears? Try to understand what it is exactly that you are scared of. Am I actually afraid of waves? At the end of the day it’s just water. It boils down to the fact that I am afraid of the loss of control and the feeling of insignificance that waves bring.

So, if you can, start small (short trips, small waves), listen to music, sing and dance (the singing and dancing bit is best done in private if your voice and dancing skills are anything like mine), and don’t be too hard on yourself. I am sure there are more mute days in my future as we continue to explore the world, there will be bigger waves and worse weather. Will I be able to talk myself around, I think so!

If nothing else I am willing to try.

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