We’re off early this morning. We’re heading to an amazing dive site called Bird Rock. It’s nice to get away from the island to be honest. I love Ascension, but already I know it’s time for us to leave. We’re here for another week and we’ve got a lot more adventures to be had, but whenever I look out into the ocean, I feel a restlessness.
It’s time to go. It’s time to go.
Even Delos herself seems restless to leave.
We rise early for the one hour sail to our dive site. After chewing on a breakfast of toast and honey, I lie out in the cockpit and snooze, the wind gently rustling over me as I drift in and out of pleasant dreams. The air is warm, but I dive down for my poncho in any case, wrapping myself up in its red wool and settling down on the cushions more comfortably. Sometimes when I close my eyes and rest, I imagine events and situations I’d like to be in. One of those is being greeted at an airport in Paris.
Call me a romantic.
I imagine it like a movie scene, pacing out the images to the sound of whatever music I’m listening to. I imagine the mechanic voice ringing out to alert people of the next departure or arrival. I imagine shifting my backpack higher on my shoulders, pausing in the crowd to get my bearings. It’s cold, so I’m wearing jeans. I’m finding it strange after walking around in shorts and bikinis after all this time. All I own is in a backpack, all of my other possessions lying in a storage container in England. I’m imagining greeting someone.
The first eye contact after all that time.
And then I start from the beginning again.
It’s a funny thing how I don’t recognise myself anymore. From when I first stepped on Delos. I sometimes look back at the footage whilst the others are editing and wish I could go back in time and tell that girl that everything is going to be ok.
Just to open her heart.
But here I am, and I must have listened at some stage.
This is as open as I’ll ever be.
And it’s been strange sharing all of this with you, the Tribe. But you know that I will never hold back from you. You know me truly, have read my confessions, trials and celebrations. I’ve poured out the contents of my heart whether it’s been bright or dark.
It’s been a new thing for me to share anything on a romantic scale. I suppose it makes me feel more vulnerable. More exposed. And I think maybe it’s been obvious that this meeting for me has been on my mind. That it’s affected my heart.
I feel like I’m in the confession booth to a silent listener, absolving me of my sins.
I hope only goodness will come from my honesty. Because I don’t know how else to be.
This is me. Elizabeth. Lizbef. Miss England.
Maybe I should just carry on with that. It seems to have done well for me so far.
I roll to my side and blearily open my eyes as I hear the anchor being lowered. I sit up to see a mass of huge rock portside, towering ominous walls of grey and black standing guard over the ocean. I blink again in surprise and turn to Brian.
Another mass of rock loomed before us, an island reaching up in an aggressive slope upwards, the surfaces jagged and coated in white and grey. We were two boat lengths away from the edge, an archway of black rock encasing us in a private water garden.
I stood and staggered to the railings, trying to keep my balance as Delos settled into the waters. I’m always a little bit clumsy on the boat, accidentally kicking pretty much everything in sight and hitting my head constantly. I gaze upwards to the screeching around us and swear again.
“Look at all of those birds!” I gasp.
Hundreds upon hundreds of birds swoop backwards and forwards from their nests on Bird Rock to the coast, to the sea and back again. It was a constant stream of tiny silhouettes streaming across the perfect blue skies.
And despite their beauty, despite their grace, I found myself loving them a little less.
“You better not touch my baby turtles…” I muttered to them in a warning. But there were no frigates in sight. And if there were, I could not distinguish them from the dozens upon dozens of other species flying about above Delos.
The waters around us were of the deepest blue, small black shapes darting this way and that as we waited for the sun to rise from behind Bird Rock to shimmer across the surface.
When it did, the blue became alive with a sudden clarity that seemed to suddenly span and spread across the waves, as if some indigo fire had exploded beneath the surface illuminating everything in sight. I could see perfectly beneath, the dark rocks unmoving below, small fish and much larger creatures rising up to check out what had invaded their territory.
Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?
I watched Brady, Alex, Brian and Karin prepare for their dive.
I’ll be honest here (as if I’d be anything else). Part of me wasn’t too excited for the trip because I am not a diver. I had other things I could preoccupy myself with, so I was looking forward to the chill time- besides- I don’t know how to dive and have only been snorkelling once. I knew there were baby sharks in the area and felt too inexperienced to go into the water.
“They won’t hurt you,” protested Brady.
“It’s ok,” I shrugged. “I’m not experienced enough for a start, and if I see one I may panic- and then it will become agitated. I don’t really feel comfortable learning how to snorkel with those sort of conditions… Maybe in different waters until I get more confident with knowing what to do.” I felt disappointed in myself as I spoke. Disappointed at my fear. At my inexperience.
I had been snorkelling once in St Helena, and I must have swallowed an ocean, finding the ‘breathing under water’ the most difficult part. Choking, coughing and spewing isn’t how I wanted to spend my Wednesday afternoon.
I also have an admission.
I am actually terrified of the ocean. I fear it. And respect it. I know that if I am not smart- if I take things for granted and become too cocky, it can become deadly. The ocean is as changeable and unpredictable like nothing else. She can be treacherous and soft, calm and ferocious. She can be the bringer of life and death.
I am aware of this constantly.
I never was afraid of the sea as a child. I remember my mother taking my sister and I to the south of England in a caravan. We didn’t have much money, so my mother had to fashion a hammock inside for one of us to sleep in. My sister and I would fight out who would sleep in it, an excitement gathering in us whenever she set it up, bringing us cups of tea in green plastic mugs in the morning.
I had always loved the sea then, always fantasising of becoming a mermaid, researching everything I could on them. I would read whatever books I could, any legends that were around and pour over the original Hans Anderson story of The Little Mermaid. I was determined that I belonged to the ocean.
I would stand at the shore, the British seas black and churning with foam like a wild animal frothing at the mouth. As a child I believed myself immortal. There was never a reason to fear death. And as I write this, I realise how profoundly how my mind changed towards the sea has affected me. It made me feel less special.
I would stand in the foam and surrender myself to the surf and current, allowing myself to get pulled into the ocean to jump over waves. There was always that challenge of swimming out to the wave before it broke, swimming out until your arms and legs burnt with the purpose of getting over it just in time.
I remember the terror when I didn’t make it. The dark skies and inky waters rising over my head like a giant mouth ready to consume me. I would know it was going to happen every time. I would feel that dread, that fear- that terror.
And hold my breath.
My body would twist beneath the surface until I didn’t know which way was up and down. Where was sky and where was ground? I remember kicking out, my lungs scorching with fire, my mouth full of saltwater, my body shaking with adrenaline and fear as my head broke the surface to take that first breath.
Until the next wave came.
And I remember when I made it in time. When the current took my body like willing hands, accepted me as its own, raising me above the waves, high above the foam, high above the land until I was flying.
I was with the sea! I was the sea.
I was no longer ordinary.
And as I waved back to my mother, who I thought was waving back to me in pride (who was actually fearfully waving at me to swim back to shore), I never knew that was my naivety. To ever believe I had control of the ocean. That I could ever appease it.
There was a moment when I was doing my normal thing of riding the waves when I faced death for the first time. I crashed beneath a wave and couldn’t get back up. I tried to stand but there was a huge weight pressing against my spine, my knees unable to scramble for a purchase, my arms too weak to push myself up. What was holding me down?
And as a child, as I fought for life, the realisation of my death became sudden. I acknowledged it. I knew I was going to die. I knew I was going to drown. And I lay there, accepting it. Felt it.
Until the last moment when the weight lifted from my back and I sprung back to the surface.
I will never forget that moment.
And it was from there, when I realised- I was not one favoured by the ocean like I had believed. I wasn’t a daughter of the waves, a mermaid or anything.
I was a human being.
So when I grew older my realisation of my mortality came to me. I was not invincible.
But I always wanted to make myself do the things that scared me.
That stubbornness has led me back to the ocean. Back to where it all started. Back to the ardent love I had for it in the first place. But my love for it is still hesitant. Like a lover who has been spurned one too many times. I’m cautious and keep my distance.
Until I can’t.
That was the reason of my fear when they asked me to jump into the ocean. That was the reason why I wanted to go sailing. I wanted to become reunited with my love.
But I was still afraid.
“I’m going to have a nice day regardless,” I assured Brady, hoping it would be left alone. Could you be on Delos and still remain untouched by the sea? “I’m going to do some writing, some sunbathing- maybe even some painting.”
I knew he wanted Lisa and I to join in, but we were just unsure. We didn’t want to affect the rest of the group as they were so excited for the dive, but I knew they wanted us to feel included somehow.
It just felt like such a big jump.
The day continued and both pairs took it in turns to go in, Brian and Karin first with 45 minutes of air, and then Brady and Alex. When they came back up, they were shouting, whooping and had huge grins on their faces.
I sat and watched them, content for the moment to do just that.
“Elizabeth, you really should get in the water,” said Karin, surprising me.
I had already explained why I didn’t feel easy and Karin is always the one to allow you to do whatever you feel comfortable with. But something was different.
“You really should do it, Elizabeth,” she pushed. “I know you will love it. I wouldn’t say it otherwise. You just have to.”
Brady laughs, seeing my expression. “She knows she has to, because she wants to write about it!”
I nodded then, knowing then that I was already falling victim to the story. I did want to write about it. I knew there and then that I was going to jump into the deep with whatever swam out there.
Karin and Brian pulled on their diving equipment to explore the depths once more as I pulled on my flippers and mask.
Brady gave a small whoop as he slipped into the waters, Alex already underwater, viewing the world below.
I took a breath.
And fell into the blue.
My body was instantly encased in the quiet of the waters, the only sound coming from the bubbles rising up around me.
Hello again, the waters seemed to murmur. It’s been a while…
And you know what? It was incredible. Fish surrounded me as I swam around Delos, Brady and Alex keeping close, knowing I was nervous. Grasping my hand, Brady led me through the waters and pointed.
Look! He gestured.
There ahead, in the flickering light and shadows of the deep it swam.
I gripped onto Brady’s fingers tightly, watching it glide through the water peacefully. All my life I had held a terror for creatures of the deep. And yet here I was, just another creature to them in the blue.
It was although I could hear their confusion.
What are you? What are you? What are you?
I stared at it as it swam faster than what I could follow, my heart pounding, my blood pumping, the ocean wrapping around my skin like a cold comforting blanket.
Alex’s head broke the surface suddenly. “Turtle!” she yelped. “Turtle!”
I dived back beneath, the waters drowning out the sound of the outside world as we delved into the deep. This was too much. This was just too much.
There within the sapphire shadows was a shape. I swam harder, and finally saw it. A beautiful turtle was swimming lazily away from us, the sun glimmering across the back of its shell. I wished I was there by its side, swimming as creature and creature, but it was now too far, I couldn’t move fast enough and my lungs were burning, burning, burning-
I rose to the surface and heaved a breath into my lungs.
Alex was grinning at me.
“You see?” she called, laughing. “One made it, Lizzy!”
And that was it. I started to cry.
I was overwhelmed by imagery. Overwhelmed by nature. Overwhelmed by overcoming my fears. Overwhelmed by the realisation that a part of me was still that little girl from years ago, still wishing to be a mermaid.
“What do you think of snorkelling now?” Brady asked me.
“It’s so amazing!” I almost sobbed, climbing back up onto the boat.
I was quiet for a while, feeling spoilt by what I had seen. Already Ascension had given me so much, so many happy memories, but it seemed adamant that it wanted to give me more.
After showering off the back of Delos, we all dried off and pulled up the anchor, content to leave Bird Rock- for now. I watched the island become smaller and smaller as I resumed my daydreaming position in the cockpit, closing my eyes and drifting off once again to that imagined airport in another country far away.
The next day, Lisa and I were to have our first diving lesson at a place called Comfortless Cove. It used to be called Comfortable Cove until people were put there after suffering with the plague or yellow fever to keep them segregated from the rest of the population.
It was basically a place to put dying people.
A small white beach with peaceful clear blue waters, hugged by surrounding rocks to shield us from the wind, it was a mini paradise for us all.
Brady talked us through all of the dive equipment, getting us to take it apart and put it back together on our own.
I listened intently, terrified of getting something wrong. Lisa picked up things pretty quickly, and I told myself to wait, be patient with myself and watch how it was all done a second time.
I’ve always been one who learns best when thrown in the deep end. And this felt pretty deep. But I trusted Brady and Brian. I knew that they would never put me in an unsafe situation.
I trust them with my life.
I knew then as I was pulling on my wetsuit with Lisa how lucky I was. To be learning how to dive with SV Delos, in one of the best diving sites in the entire world and not having to pay a penny. Brady and Brian knew how far they could push me. They knew my ability. The fact that they had faith in me made me have faith in myself.
I was nervous- I’m not going to lie. I had never dived before and I couldn’t help but feel that with all the equipment we needed just to be able to breathe underwater- wasn’t this nature’s way of telling us to back off? To stick to what we knew?
But I wanted that relationship with the ocean back.
I never realised until now how much I wanted it.
I took my first breath underwater and opened my eyes to an entire new world. Guided, I swam beneath the surface, breathing freely with Lisa at my side. I remember in that moment wondering how I would write about it. How would I put into words those feelings I experienced. Back then I couldn’t explain my time beneath the water. Even now I am struggling.
I was surrounded by an entire new universe that had its own set of rules. I watched the fish as they passed by me, could see their confusion and interest as I tried to figure out buoyancy, lost in this paradise, lost in this new world, lost in this life of mine.
After our dive, we celebrated with a beer, sunbathed, ate some food in the sun, chatted, laughed and went for a second dive. I felt more confident, and happily swam beneath with Brian as our guide.
I was in love with this sensation.
But I still took it seriously. I knew I was a novice. I had a lot to learn and knew I couldn’t get too comfortable.
Stay alert. Stay alert. Stay alert.
On the way back to Delos on Maggie, we paused to watch a gigantic Devil Ray feed on the surface. I sat back, without any words. What had I ever done to deserve any of this? Yesterday I had swam in the same waters with a shark and turtle, today I had learned how to dive, and now I was watching a gentle giant of the sea during feeding time.
I was overwhelmed.
And as we returned to our home on the waters, I sat and stared at the world surrounding me. I never knew how empty my heart had been before I had come onto Delos. I never knew how much my soul had needed to repair before these people.
I never knew because I had never felt so happy in that moment. My heart had never felt so full- so full to the point I would just cry because I felt so good.
My story was becoming more and more incredible each day.
I could only imagine what tomorrow would bring.