Float my boat
Today is my birthday, which is of no national importance, but it does make me a fishy Piscean and, ergo, a lover of all things watery. I came late to swimming, having never encountered a pool in my childhood England. Then we arrived in Canberra and I was thrown into the deep end of the Manuka Baths by Dad, who said it would bring shame on the family if I were to start my new primary school and promptly sink without trace. Public pools were known as baths back then, which always made me imagine lavender salts and soap, all rosy and rub-a-dub-dub.
This baptism brought with it the acquisition of an Aussie cossie and the ceremonial dispatch of my Brighton Beach (England) model made from wool, which smelled like old socks and was much favoured by silverfish.
Since then, it has been hard to keep me out of the water, whether pool, ocean or even river. As a teenager, I would sometimes be dispatched to family in Bathurst, west of Sydney, during school holidays, including to stay with a wonderfully eccentric Methodist minister uncle who lived on a shambling property. He taught me how to catch tadpoles and encouraged swinging on a rope above a creek the colour of breakfast tea. The water was shallow and there were odd things below, such as rusty bits of fencing wire, but I survived just fine, possibly due to said uncle’s well-placed prayers.
At various times I’ve tried stand-up paddle-boarding, water-skiing, catamaran sailing, even trout fishing, and all manner of things beneath the surface, including snorkelling with stingrays and reef sharks, but no scuba diving, which seems deeply alien. I haven’t attempted anything to do with surfboards since buying my husband a surfing lesson, at a beach famous for its waves on the NSW mid-north coast, and then helping him take a shower at our motel while he sat on a stool and wailed that he would never be able to stand up straight again.
So that’s that. Then there have been trips on boats in Botswana to search for wildlife, such as outings aboard a mokoro in the Okavango Delta. These slender dugouts, poled by rangers, take you deep into tributaries where crocodiles lurk and hippos cavort about on tiny feet and look as graceful as ballerinas, except they are out to crush you to death given half a chance. And in tropical reaches, what fun to go on an expedition to spot migrating whales or leaping dolphins or to sit aboard a glass-bottomed boat and peer at riotously coloured tropical fish and coral.
Last week in The Maldives, at the glamorous LUX South Ari Atoll resort, encounters with whale sharks were on the itinerary. We guests were all ready to hop off the boat in our snorkelling gear for supervised swims with this species, the world’s largest fish, but the whale sharks obviously had better things to do and were nowhere to be found. Sometimes, though, we need to be reminded that wildlife is not there to fulfil our expectations and be ticked off our spotter’s checklist. It’s as much about the anticipation and the thrill of the chase and, as ever, Mother Nature is at the helm.