Beach Walker – Chapter 10
‘Let’s get in there, eh?’ Leonard waded resolutely ahead of me.
Left with no other choice acceptable to my pride, I reluctantly followed him out into waist-deep water, treading gingerly at first, though I could see the sandy bottom and there were no rocks at all, no spiky sea urchins, no blue-ringed octopus and hopefully no cunningly buried stingrays.
Despite all my armour against the elements, there was still an initial shock as the cold water seeped through the wetsuit. Was there something wrong with my gear? I barely had time to think this thought before my body heat created a thin buffer of tepid water inside the neoprene. Suddenly, the sea was still wet – but had no temperature at all. Magic!
There was a slight swell, wavelets but no surf. A cold breeze ruffled the surface, and I realised I was actually keen to submerge myself and escape the chill.
Leonard helped me fit my goggles: the swim hood was proving more of an encumberance than a help right now, and my gloved fingers were uselessly clumsy.
A last appraisal, a wink, then he slipped his own goggles on and dived under the water, to resurface a few metres farther out bearing a relaxed grin.
‘In you come, girly. The water’s lovely.’
‘I’ll give you “girly”,’ I grumbled, secretly pleased, and plunged after him.
Again that initial shock. A few strokes and again the chill retreated, became bearable.
We kept to the shallows until Leonard had ascertained that I was, as claimed, a decent swimmer. My style might not be the most elegant, but I get to where I want to go. I was amazed how buoyant the suit made me feel – and confident.
He took me farther out.
The goggles were working well, and with so little wave action to stir up the bottom, visibility was excellent. I could see the pale ground below us, a few small fish scooting off as we approached, leaving puffs of sand. The reef hove into view: murky brown in the distance then, directly below us, unexpectedly colourful, with seaweed (sorry, Leonard: marine algae) in vivid red, bronze and green, with the occasional ghostly white. And look! Fish – lots of them! Stripey things just like in an aquarium! For a few minutes, I was lost in wonder at all this life and beauty, unguessed when I stood on the shore and stared out across the restless, barren waves.
I looked at Leonard’s floating form ahead of me, mentally measured the distance from the surface to the reef below – at least two Leonards’ worth of water there. We were far out of our depth.
The cold hand of fear gripped my throat, constricted my chest. Vertigo spun my head. Confident, powerful strokes grew stiff and ineffectual. My breathing became conscious, laboured, irregular. Seconds later I inhaled a slop of water, coughed, choked – and struck out blindly for the shore, hoping to get there before the depths grabbed my limbs and pulled me down for ever.
A few wild strokes and I became aware of Leonard at my side, his swimming effortless, smooth. He made no attempt to dissuade – his presence alone was enough to calm me, restore my breathing. I stopped, feeling foolish, trod water.
‘Got a bit scared?’
‘Wanna give it another go?’ His tone made it clear that there would be no judgement if I didn’t. So I did.
We swam for almost an hour that first day, gradually venturing farther from the shore than I’d ever dreamed of swimming. Confidence grew with the fluency of my stroke. As fear retreated, I began to feel the allure of the open, endless sea, its promise of freedom from earthly weight and worries.
At last we stood again on the beach.
‘You done good, Grace. Real good. Proud of you.’
I glowed. And it wasn’t just the returning blood warming my skin.
‘Next time – bathers, eh? And get changed at the beach.’ He winked, hopped in his old white Falcon ute, waved a salute, and was gone.
Next week in Beach Walker:
Chapter 11: Shells
Enthusiasm and admiration lead Grace to meddle.