For my birthday, my new daughter-in-law gave me a custom-made coffee mug—inspired, I suspect, by an adventure my son and I had twenty years ago off the coast of Australia. We were on a dive boat, somewhere between Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, when the captain suggested we all climb overboard. What?
Such a thing would never happen in American waters, which harbor not just sharks but also their next-of-kin: personal injury attorneys. In this country, if you were bitten by a shark because the captain of a cruise ship encouraged you to go for a swim, the first person to visit your bedside in the hospital would be a lawyer. Not so in Australia. Australia has no personal injury attorneys, this in spite of the fact that just about every creature there bites, stings, and is poisonous.
Alex was ten years old at the time and had been in Australia long enough that he had pretty much become fearless. So when the captain advised his passengers to jump overboard, he immediately responded, “I’ll give it a go!”
His mother, however, was dubious. “If Alex goes overboard,” she said, “you go with him. Make sure he doesn’t drown or get eaten by a shark.”
Honestly, I wasn’t keen on the idea, but what else could I do? Annie is the quintessential helicopter parent. And I? I guess I’m the submarine parent.
Once overboard, we were directed to grasp onto the boom net. Alex found a handhold close to the stern; I positioned myself farther astern in case he should lose his grip. Once we were all settled, the captain signaled from the wheelhouse that he was about to hit the throttle.
“You’ll love it, mates,” he said. “It’s like a salt water Jacuzzi!”
Suddenly, the sea began to boil as the ship lurched forward. Those toward the front were buoyed up by bubbles while those of us in the rear were dragged under. As spectators on the poop deck filmed the spectacle, my swimsuit began to slide off. With one hand I managed to snag the waistband at just the last second. Meantime, I was taking on quite a lot of seawater, and I couldn’t be sure whether whatever was holding onto my ankle was a great white or just another submarine parent.
I’ve been told that just before you die, time slows down and you become intently focused on whatever it is in front of you. In my case, it was the curvaceous bottom of a young sheila (Australian girl). Not so bad, I thought. And now—goodbye, cruel world!
But I didn’t drown. Someone must have signaled the captain that some of his passengers had gone under. So he eased off the throttle, and presently I was gaffed aboard. Luckily, I was still wearing my swim trunks—not that it would have mattered. I mean, there were Germans wearing Speedos on deck! And in Cairns, sunbathing sheilas generally don’t bother with tops. At first, it’s a bit shocking, but then you get used to it and nobody raises a fuss. Unlike America, there are no public indecency laws in Australia. And—as a result—no worries, Mate!