Sea legs and sharks

When you think sea­sick­ness and sharks, you’d be for­given for think­ing of a va­ca­tion from hell — but for Brett Stan­ley, it’s all part of the job

The Photographer's Mail - - Column - Brett Stan­ley

Sea­sick­ness, the curse of any wa­ter­borne ac­tiv­ity. It’s a sick­ness that bur­rows deep inside you, un­avoid­able and un­con­trol­lable. If you can bat­tle the nau­sea, there’s still the dull headache to deal with and the lim­ited con­cen­tra­tion span.

I get sea­sick. Even the thought of board­ing a boat makes me nau­seous, which is rather dis­ap­point­ing for a per­son so in love with the sea. I’ve been a diver since I was 16, and bat­tling the hor­ri­ble scourge has been part and par­cel of that experience. I do re­mem­ber per­haps the one time I wasn’t ill on the ferry cross­ing the Cook Strait — I was mor­tally hung-over, and my body just wasn’t ca­pa­ble of feel­ing any worse!

But this isn’t a tale of nau­sea and ner­vous burps; it’s one of sim­ple tri­umph (and sharks).

As I write this, I’m on the is­land of Bi­mini in the Ba­hamas, which is part of the Caribbean and one cor­ner of the Ber­muda Tri­an­gle. I’m en­joy­ing my first day off af­ter four days of un­der­wa­ter shoots. We’re here work­ing on a few cam­paigns for a con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion, and the wa­ter is some of the best in the world — so clear that you can see straight to the bot­tom, 20 me­tres down!

When I ar­rived in Bi­mini and saw the sailboat we were to spend the next week on, I was ap­pre­hen­sive — I knew how sick I get on large ships, and this was a 10-me­tre rac­ing boat. But then I saw the wa­ter — like liq­uid glass, so bright and blue! I had never seen wa­ter like this in my life — in mag­a­zines, for sure, but, with my own eyes, it was so much more spec­tac­u­lar. I was so en­thralled that my child­like ex­cite­ment over­ruled my po­ten­tial nau­sea, and I for­got to feel sick. It was to­tal mind over mat­ter, and I be­gan to be­lieve that I could be fine on the wa­ter, and so I was. I was kept so busy with plan­ning and pre­par­ing the shots that I didn’t have time to feel sick, and then, slowly, I gained con­fi­dence, and I wasn’t sick any more. It was like a re­li­gious experience in a way, so em­pow­er­ing that at one point I found my­self at the boat’s stove cook­ing us all lunch. Im­pos­si­ble!

The other challenge for the trip was our im­pend­ing photo shoot with the three-me­tre reef sharks …

Like most ra­tio­nal hu­mans, I’m afraid of sharks. They are scary and we’re taught to fear them. I’m cau­tious of them when I swim and dive, but my ap­pre­hen­sion in­creased when, just be­fore we rolled from the boat, our guide started to bloody the wa­ter with dead fish. This can’t be good, I thought. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “I hope you’re right,” I replied. He told me to be­lieve. So, with a tight­ness in my belly, I de­scended the an­chor line and med­i­tated on my new­found for­ti­tude, the lack of sick­ness mak­ing me bold. As I touched down, me­tres below the sur­face, I looked around and felt the calm­ness that floods my body when I’m un­der the wa­ter.

I felt at home, and the reef sharks felt our com­mu­nal calm, cir­cling us with cu­rios­ity but not ag­gres­sion. Glid­ing in and out of my cam­era’s frame, our mod­els (seen in the im­age above) com­ple­ment­ing their grace. At one point, two large bat rays swam through our set, and I may have squealed like a giddy school girl. This is what I live for, and these mo­ments are what I’m thankful for.

It’s the mid­dle of our trip to the is­lands of the Ba­hamas, and I’m so happy with the experience so far yet ex­cited about what’s to come.

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