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Darling on deck: Kristin Ducote has a brush with bull sharks

Darling on deck: Kristin Ducote has a brush with bull sharks

In a brush with bull sharks, Kristin Ducote discovers that facing her fears brings welcome rewards...

With a broad stroke, I glide through the gleaming turquoise waters off Acklins Island and gaze through my free-diving mask at the coral heads far below. A flash of silver catches my eye as a spear darts through the water, and my husband, Chapman, hits a skinny mackerel below us. I squint through the saltwater haze, and within seconds, I see movement. A fat torpedo-shaped shadow slips into focus. OK, it’s a bull shark. Don’t panic. I will allow my heartbeat to slow. Sharks can’t see well but they can sense our heartbeat escalate in the face of danger like the prey we truly are.

Then another movement, another shadow. In the blink of an eye there are six sharks circling us. My heartbeat ticks up another notch. Damn my survival instincts. The first shark idles nearer, turning slowly around me like a carousel horse – except with rows of jagged ugly teeth. Now, I have seen plenty of sharks in my day. Slow circles mean they are still trying to figure me out: predator or prey? Despite my training, for a vivid instant I picture myself as a shark snack and I panic. I shoot to the surface and leap on the paddleboard, drawing my arms and legs tight to my chest. But on the board beneath me lies Chapman’s mackerel drizzling blood into the water. Something bumps the back of the board and it teeters. With a shriek, I push the fish into the water.

And then… nothing. No sound. No movement. No Chapman. Has he already come up for air? Is he pushing the limits of his breath-hold? What seems like an eternity later, Chapman surfaces about 20 feet away and waves. Not a frantic I’m-being-eaten wave, just a normal oh-there-you-are wave, and he smiles!

“They’re gone now,” Chapman calls. He turns and begins to swim away, leaving me stranded. I squeal with outrage. He yells over his shoulder, “You’ve got to get back on the horse!”

Fine. I’ll show you! I roll off the board, overfill my lungs with salty air and begin my descent. With my mammalian diving reflex (yes, that’s a real thing) in hyper-drive, I drop quickly and clear my ears with ease. I’m on a mission: get down and back before another shark shows up. Past the second atmosphere at 66 feet, I stop kicking and enjoy the gravity glide to the ocean floor. As I reach the sand, my eyes flick to my dive watch. I’m at 88 feet. Holy mother! It’s my deepest yet. I push off for the surface.

Halfway up, Chapman meets me and does a happy dance before escorting me mask-to-mask to make sure I don’t pass out. I break the surface and gasp air into my lungs, but I wasn’t thinking about my oxygen levels or basking in my husband’s cries of delight. I was bolting toward the paddleboard so I could pull my body parts out of shark territory.

On my hard-earned ride back to safety, I lie flat on my back, staring up into the brilliant blue of a Bahamian morning sky. And for those perfect, sunbaked moments I feel totally and completely alive. Although I’m furious at Chapman for pushing me, I know he was right to get me to face my fear. While I’m not suggesting you swim with sharks, do consider a step outside your comfort zone. Leap off the flybridge for a little adrenaline spike. Dive down for a handful of sand from the ocean floor. You just might find an adventure, a thrill you weren’t seeking, a moment of proud bliss you’d never expect.

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