The Shed

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

- 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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