“Sharks, they only bite when you touch their private parts”

50 First Dates

If you know someone who enjoys any type of ocean activity, chances are they have said something along the lines of “sharks don’t want to hurt you! They aren’t interested in humans!”. I also adopted this mantra and used it to soothe my worried soul before every plunge into the open ocean. I used it so much that the fear actually started to dissipate! I swam with white tip reef sharks and thought “aw, they’re just like puppies!” I once jumped off the boat into the water, only to discover a shark swimming beneath me. Now, I didn’t stay in the water long enough after seeing said shark to identify what kind it was, but I still logged the experience in my subconscious as proof that sharks really aren’t interested in humans.

Well, from personal experience… you can convince yourself all you want that sharks are “cool” and not scary, but when you come face to face with one of the most vicious predators in the sea, you will shit your wetsuit. Possibly metaphorically, possibly not.

Let me tell you about our experience flipping our mooring chain.

Every 2-3 years it is advised to flip your mooring chain, as the chain in the bottom is constantly being dragged around the ocean floor, wearing it down. Flipping the chain is a 3 step process.

Step 1: Count the links from the top shackle to where the chain is shackled at the bottom around the mooring block – this way you will know the exact length to re-shackle the chain once flipped.

Step 2: Dig the chain out from under the 3500lb mooring block so it’s mobile.

Step 3: Flip the chain, re-attach it at the top, count down the exact amount of links, zip-tie the link (in our case it was the 160th link), wrap the chain around the block, then refasten the end of the chain at the zip tie using a shackle.

Our story begins with step 2.

After descending down to our mooring block, I started counting the links one by one and Austin jumped into the second step unlodging the chain. After counting out 160 links, I look up to find myself engulfed in a HUGE cloud of sand created by the pushing, pulling, dragging, and digging Austin was doing to get the chain free. I don’t like being in 40ft of water with no visibility, so I backed up and hung out from a distance. I had time to kill, so I was just looking around admiring the sea life and the neverending expanse of blue ocean.

Then I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye.

It took me a moment to comprehend the scene playing out in front of me, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was looking directly at a Tiger Shark and it was headed straight towards the large cloud of sand and debris, straight for the love of my life.

I was paralyzed for a solid 5 seconds while my fight and flight instincts battled it out – but I knew either way I needed to move, now. So I started swimming as fast as I could towards Austin. I lost track of the shark as soon as I started swimming. I set my sight and made a beeline for Austin. I lost all sense of self-preservation and fear and swam like our lives depended on it. Austin couldn’t see me coming through the sand, so I grabbed his tank, flipped him around, made the sign for shark, and we made the ascent.

You might think this is where our story ends. But you would be wrong! Any sane person might get out at this point, but if you have been reading my blog at all you probably have gathered.. we are not exactly sane. As soon as we surfaced Austin turned to me and asks in an infuriatingly calm manner, “Well, what type of shark was it?” to which I replied, “I don’t know, the kind with sharp teeth!?” He was not phased.

We spent 4 more hours in the water after that.

Before going back down I was given a new role – defender of the crew.

For the majority of the next 4 hours underwater, I was positioned with my back to Austin, wielding the largest wrench we could get our hands on. Everywhere he went, my wrench and I followed. I had it over my head ready to strike at any given moment… because obviously, an angry mechanic would ward off the shark! Could I realistically fend off a shark with a wrench if it decided to attack? No. But at least I’d die trying!

In all seriousness, though, many divers have had close encounters with sharks and were able to redirect them by just putting their hand or an object out and pushing the shark’s nose in a different direction. This is not in the case of a shark intent on attacking, just if the shark is interested in you and comes too close for comfort. There are tons of incredible youtube videos of this happening- I highly recommend checking them out!

The only example I can think of to adequately describe my initial fear is this: Imagine you are walking to your car alone at night. The parking lot is empty. As you are unlocking your door you see a shadow, you straighten up to look, and there is someone standing right next to you with a gun. Can you imagine the feeling of your stomach dropping and fear balling up in your throat? That is the feeling I got. I was terrified and defenseless. But you know what? I did it. I faced my fears and I did the darn thing.

SVZV is now safely attached to her mooring and I can casually say, “Yeah, I’ve fought off a shark. No big deal”

Before the shark encounter.. not a care in the world


Climbing higher and higher,
the weight of the world feeling lighter and lighter

With each pull I am hoisted up With each inch my heart skips a beat
With each missed beat I feel relief because nothing is as bad as my mind makes it seem

Taking in the stunning view, I held my breath Conquering my fears one moment of discomfort at a time

With each pull I feel stronger and stronger, the sickening pit of nerves in my stomach staying calm for longer and longer

When I got to the top the world stood still but my shaking hands still had a task to fulfill
I was up there for a reason but I couldn’t remember what
Overcome with emotions swirling in my gut

In the end I remembered to make sure the rigging looked good
And even though it was a fight to get me up there only memories of the beauty withstood

The Ugly Truth

This one is hard for me to write because it’s not a lesson I’m proud I needed to learn. When we first got Squid (our dinghy), ZV was on anchor at the outer edge of the mooring field, roughly a 15 minute ride from shore. I, having incredibly little experience, had only been in a boat with an outboard motor on a few other occasions in my lifetime. The first few times I watched the motor being started it looked easy enough. That being said, I had never even started a lawnmower before. So how could I really know? Well turns out I didn’t know. On my first attempt I sat there for 10 minutes yanking that cord, growing increasingly frustrated until I threw in the towel. Dramatically, I threw my hands in the air and exclaimed that I would “NEVER” get this stupid thing to work. And so it began.

Not being physically able to start that damn motor frustrated me beyond belief. If no one was around I could usually get it started after a handful of attempts. If we were leaving the boat ramp, or in another public location, my frustration would turn into embarrassment overs others seeing my failure. The overwhelming feelings of frustration, embarrassment, and inadequacy often pushed me to the point of tears and I would shut down. Not only was I giving up on myself, I was giving up (and often times getting angry at) Austin, who was working hard to teach me the necessary skills involved in boating.

Logically, I understand there is no shame in being a beginner and learning as I go. Logic stopped mattering when faced with a seemingly impossible task. I felt attacked and put on the spot. I’d get defensive and rude. It took me a few weeks to really look at my behavior and realize the outboard motor wasn’t the problem.. I was. This attitude I had been developing towards difficult tasks was stopping me from absorbing the knowledge I needed to know. To defeat this attitude, I had to identify the root cause of my mental block and  let go of my ego.

There are still a lot of times where I get combative when learning something new. It’s something I struggle with and I’m constantly working on. At least it’s a behavior I recognize now. Being put in such a high pressure situation forces me to work on aspects of myself I don’t put much thought into regularly. For that I’m incredibly grateful. I’m incredibly proud of the hard work I am putting in, not only on the boat, but in myself as well.

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed- I can now start that motor up, no problem!

Captain Austin proudly displaying his newly caught fish from The Squid

Stay Calm

It seems like the right time to tell you my first “oh shit” story.

Before making the decision to purchase a boat, Austin spent a lot of time preparing me for life as a liveaboard.  To him, that meant feeding me worst case scenarios and presenting the doomsday  version of life on a boat. Essentially he wanted to make sure this is something I really wanted before making the commitment; and I did. He could not scare me away.         

The first two weeks living on ZV were smooth sailing. Hard work? Yes. A major adjustment from life on land? Yes. Doomsday level difficulty? No. I was proud of myself and confident in my progression of experience and knowledge. Too confident.

I woke up a bit grumpy because I had to get up early to help re-drop the anchor, as the previous day Austin noticed our chain was fouled on old line and chain left on the ocean floor. It had been a few days since we last lifted anchor and we had been fine, so I thought it was unnecessary. It was my day off and I wanted to sleep in. His decision probably saved our boat.

It was a rocky morning on the boat. As the hours rolled on, conditions began to intensify. Out of nowhere, not forecasted by any weather app, the wind began howling and the waves started to increase in size and strength. We are fairly protected from storms where we are located on the leeward side of the island. But this storm came from the west, hitting us hard. The waves swelled up 10ft high. At that point I could no longer see the shore less than 50 yards away.

Already worried about the anchor setting correctly and holding ZV without dragging, I let go of my pride and called Austin as things started to escalate.

My first call went as follows:

Chelsea: “ It’s getting really bad out here. I’m worried about the motor on the dinghy. It’s slamming so hard on the waves it’s about to slide off. What do I do?”

Austin: “ Bring the dinghy in closer to the boat and tie it off”

C: “ Got it. Also, the rudder is banging from side to side and the steering wheel is slamming back-and-forth.”   

A: “ Tie the wheel off to something to steady it. You’ve got this!”

It was pouring rain and the waves were pounding me, making it difficult to see and navigate the boat. I brought the dinghy in and tied it off on the cleat, making sure to put the working load to the front like Austin taught me. I located some extra line and began working to secure the wheel. As I was doing that I noticed an unmanned boat floating by.

“Shit” I thought, “that sucks”.

 “That boat looks familiar” I looked up again. “That’s our dinghy”.                 

My next call to Austin:

C: “The Squid (the name of our dinghy) broke the cleat.”

A: “ Broke the cleat?”

C: “ Yes. The stainless snapped and Squid is on shore”

A: “Can you see him?”

C: “Yes”

A: “Keep your eye on him. I’ll figure out what to do. We’re ending the charter early. I’ll call you soon”

Waves were crashing over ZV and her bow began to dip into the ocean at the end of its ride down the face of each massive wall of water. I was watching other boats disappearing in and out of vision, hanging on for dear life as they weathered the storm.

With all the commotion, the Coast Guard zooming by on jet skis rescuing divers and paddle borders from the water, the thunderous sound of waves crashing all around me, I completely missed a small sailboat wash onto the beach. Now, I was hyper-focused on my surroundings.

I noticed another sailboat drifting dangerously through the mooring field, edging towards shore. It seemed as if the boats captain was attempting to turn it and motor to safety. In the blink of an eye it was stuck on the reef.

That’s when I made my third and final call:

C: “ You need to come get me. Now”

A: *guests loudly getting sick* “It took us longer than expected to get into the harbor. It’s a mess. Stay calm. You’re doing good. ”

The whole ordeal only lasted for 3-4 hours. I’m proud to say I only cried for 30 minutes of it. This experience was a huge lesion in emotional control and staying calm under pressure. By the time Austin got to the boat, I was filled with joy and relief that the storm was dying down and our gear kept ZV safe.

Added bonus: the day ended with an incredible sunset. Almost like the Earth was comforting us after a long day.