As I leapt from the railing on the side of the boat it occurred to me, rather late, that the others might not. About 50 of us were on the boat for the day off the coast from Cape Town in South Africa. Several had lined up along the railing to jump into the ocean and it was only now that I had taken the leap that I wondered about my colleagues.
I started to wonder too about what lay below. It was spring so probably the water was not going to give me a warm welcome. Were there sharks here? Woman-eating squid and sea monsters? Rocks – no probably not, this was quite a big boat. And if any of these hazards were present, what was my plan? Reverse gravity and spring back up to the railing? Divert to the shore, only an hour’s sailing away? It seemed I was stuck with my decision.
There must have been a reason for doing it, so I tried to focus on that. Bravado for one. South Africa at that time seemed to have learned to live with apartheid by developing blind spots about other aspects of social responsibility too. In my experience it was the most sexist country I had visited or worked in. So quite apart from the usual woman-in-a-man’s world issue that was my daily bread, there was an amplifying layer to prove to these guys that I was up to the challenge. A general carpe diem approach to travel was also a contributing factor. I was here, the opportunity was here, I might never have it again so best give it a go. And being raised in the North-East of England, swimming in the hostile North Sea off Whitley Bay had hard-wired a general belief that you don’t avoid water because it might be a bit chilly.
I made contact with the water and gasped. It was as cold as the time I had swum off the Cornish coast in early spring and the coastguard had come out to rescue me because they assumed it must be a suicide attempt. Even their over-enthusiastic labrador had put one foot in the water and then ran back to their jeep. They had contented themselves with standing on the shore in windcheaters shouting at me with a megaphone. So here I was again out in the cold, but this time rushing into the water so fast there was no opportunity for hesitation. It engulfed my senses, pounded my ears, pressed against my eyeballs, gripped my legs. I slowed my descent into the water and started to push back up.
Now my concerns had changed. There was going to be the awkward moment when I broke the surface. I’d better put on a brave face and confront whatever the reaction was going to be. And then start worrying about how to get back on deck. Was there a ladder? Was there going to be an ungainly process of clambering up and being hauled back on board by amused by-standers?
However, as I burst back up into the air I only felt exhilaration. I’m not generally a seeker of extreme physical excitement. No fast cars or funfair rides for me. But I had taken a leap into the slightly unknown and I had survived. I felt braver and more capable. Maybe I should do it more often?