jump to navigation

The Face of Terror December 26, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Family, Fear, Fun, Humor, Parenting/Children, pirate day, Snorkeling, Stupidity, Terror, Vacation.

I know my limits.

No, really. I do. I know that there are things I can do pretty well, such as public speaking, writing, and (in spite of appearances to the contrary) car repair.


In sharp contrast are things that I do not do well, but enjoy attempting to do (in the right context). This includes things like swimming, climbing, and playing golf. Recently, my family vacationed in Maui, where (coincidentally) some of the most common activities are…

…swimming, climbing, and playing golf. As with most disasters, this one began innocently enough.

Into the Boat
We had decided to take an early morning snorkeling trip to Molokini, “one of ONLY two crescent shaped calderas in the entire world, thousands of years old.” We justified the expense of such a trip by telling ourselves that feeding the four of us (including our 15 and 18 year-old sons) would be costly regardless, so we might as well get some free snorkeling and boating thrown into the deal. After a brief and beautiful boat ride out to Molokini (which included a semi-satisfying continental breakfast), we stopped for our first session of snorkeling.

Now, in spite of my poor swimming ability, I have been known to hop into the occasional pool, wander into the waves near the shore, or (more rarely) hang onto a floating innertube for dear life while being towed around a lake. I do these things, not because I enjoy it, but because I don’t wish to spoil the fun of others going along with me, and… well… I don’t want to look like a wimp.

Into the Water
All too soon (for my tastes), people were hopping off the side of the boat and slipping down the water slide. The more rational (in my opinion) among us were going down the ladders at the rear of the boat, and cautiously slipping into the crystal clear, idyllic Pacific waters. My family was already in the water, and after everyone else who was going to snorkel was in, I couldn’t very well wait at the ladder in my snorkel, mask, and fins much longer without looking completely ridiculous.

I went down the ladder.

I went slowly. My steps, I suspect, resembled that of death-row inmates as they make the walk from the cell to the electric chair.

Unfortunately, the water was very warm, so I was not able to use “the water is too cold” as an excuse for any sort of delay. Just then, the unthinkable happened. A little girl appeared behind me, waiting for me to enter the water so she could hop in. No doubt she was a good swimmer, and therefore had no reason to be afraid. This increased the pressure of her waiting behind me.

The Innocence of Children
However, the conversation with her father (already in the water) made me suspect that she had never been in water over her head. The poor child. She had no idea how terrifying this was going to be! I slipped into the water, clinging to a set of floats that were roped between the dual ladders on the back of the boat, and out of the way of the father waiting for his daughter to jump in.

She jumped in.

I waited for the screams, but none came. Instead, she put her face down in the water, began paddling away with her flippers, and soon left her father in her wake.

Demon child, she was.

I heard a member of the crew call out to the father, “Is she OK?”

“Yes,” the father replied, “but he’s not.”

He was referring to me. Somehow, this man had peered into my soul, and was able to see the terror that I believed I was so carefully hiding behind the mask and snorkel. (My wife later informed me that she had never before seen such a look of complete terror as when she looked into my mask as I maintained a stranglehold on the float rope. So much for my “poker face.”)

The crew member invited me over to the other ladder, helped me to don a “flotation belt,” and assured me that “in salt water, you won’t sink.” He was right of course, and I understood the science involved to know that it was true. The human body is simply too buoyant, especially in salt water, to sink in calm waters. I got back in the water.

Terror Continues
Back in the water, I put my face down and breathed through the snorkel. The water was clear, and I could see the bottom, 25 feet below me, as if there were no water at all.

Now, I have no idea what the source of my aquaphobia might be. Like my acrophobia, it’s completely and utterly irrational. Somehow, as I lay prone in the water, clutching the “float rope,” I was experiencing both of my irrational fears simultaneously. I felt the fear of drowning, somehow combined with the fear that I was going to somehow manage to fall through this clear water to the bottom. I immediately forgot how beautiful the colors of the fish and coral might be, and popped my head up out of the water.

The ever-helpful crew member (who had somehow managed to learn my name) called out “Tim, you doin’ ok?” Clearly, I was not doing OK. He handed me a boogie board, and instructed me to put it sideways under my chest. “Tim, I guarantee you, there is no way that you will go under with the board under your chest.”

I believed him. I truly did. Unfortunately, thousands (or maybe millions) of neurons were competing with truth and logic, and were surging adrenaline through my body, blocking out all rational thought and calm movement. Even worse, I fully understood what was going on. I knew that my state of panic would cause the movement of my hands and arms to be frantic and erratic, causing more turbulence than necessary, and much less effective at controlling the movement of my body in the water. In such situations, panic is your enemy.

I know panic, very well. Panic is on my speed-dial.

Instead of making matters worse by attempting to cruise around the snorkeling area, I decided to just hang out (more accurately, “hang on”) at the back of the boat, watch the scuba and snuba divers, watch the fish, and otherwise manage to not force the crew to dive into the calm waters to rescue a rather large, panicky adult male, flailing helplessly about, and endangering anyone within his extensive reach. Soon enough, people were streaming back into the boat, and I managed to slip in alongside them, and prepare for lunch.

Knowing that discretion is the better part of valor, and suspecting that there was little (if any) valor exhibited in my initial snorkel outing, I decided to stay on the boat during the second half of our trip, and watch the wonders of “Turtle Town” from the relative safety of the railing. My wife and sons were happily snorkeling about, and I was happy to not be gasping for breath, fighting a losing battle with irrationality.

After a hearty lunch of grilled cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches, two tours of snorkeling, and pleasant cruising of the beautiful Pacific waters between Maui and Molokini, we headed back to the dock. As we pulled in, the crew began tying the boat off to the mooring cleats, and I noted that one had tied a nice “cleat hitch,” but the other crewmember had tied it incorrectly.

My oldest son seemed astounded that I would know what the knot was called. “How in the world do you know that?”

“I was in the scouts when I was younger,” I replied.

“You? You were in Boy Scouts?” His voice captured sheer amazement that was about to turn into hysterics for both of my sons. (My wife was able to control her laughter, for the most part.)

“No,” I said meekly. “Not Boy Scouts. I was in Sea Scouts.”

I would have made a lousy pirate.


1. Laura - December 26, 2006

You were undoubtedly entertaining to everyone there! Poor Tim! 🙂

2. Tiffany - December 27, 2006

I’m pretty sure my reaction to the situation would have been almost identical. Whenever I see people snorkeling in movies, for example, I always wonder how they stay up on the surface — why don’t they sink to the bottom? Why don’t they tire out and start flailing around like shark bait? Why doesn’t water get in the snorkel and drown them? Why aren’t they terrified at seeing the crystal clear bottom so far below them, like Neo on top of the skyscraper in The Matrix? Thus, snorkeling is not in my future; I’ll stay on the boat, thanks anyway.

This reminds me, by the way, of the only time I’ve ever been on a glass-bottom boat. We were on Key West, and the glass-bottom boat ride was supposed to be The Thing To Do. I envisioned a boat whose entire bottom was made of glass; we’d sit and watch ocean life unroll under us like a documentary on the Discovery Channel. Instead, a glass panel about 4×6 feet was set into the hull. We had a nice ride into the Gulf, and then the boat stopped over a reef. Everyone on board crowded around the window, trying to get a glimpse of fish, crabs, or sharks, but this was made difficult by the bobbing of the boat — everything on the other side of the glass kept moving back and forth … up and down … and, um, I needed to go up on deck before I got sick. I don’t think underwater adventures are exactly my thing. 🙂

3. Bobby Caldwell - December 28, 2006

Uh huh…And I thought the “terror of the seas” was Blackbeard. Didn’t know it was a transitive verb.

4. Laura - December 28, 2006

I have to comment again…

When I read this post, I could totally envision the scene–so much so that it pains me to read it at all. That is a testament to your excellent writing ability. Keep up the good work, but please stop snorkeling!

5. Anne - April 9, 2007

Ha ha… While I love snorkelling and truly do not understand why anyone would be that afraid of the water, it is very amusing to read about you horror experience. I really think you should get back into the water again, and write more about it! But that’s kind of a cruel wish, maybe.

6. zoe - April 30, 2008

aquaphobia can be such a bummer. but i still applaud you for being brave to try snorkeling. Don’t know if i could do it myself knowing how much of a scaredy cat i am when it comes to the water. read some stuff about aquaphobia at http://www.aquaphobia.com

7. donstuff - July 12, 2008

What a great post. I enjoyed it. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: