Journey of Self-discovery: Conquering my fear of boats


Boats scare the shit out of me.

I apologize if such language may seem unnecessary to you, but it is an apt description of the paralyzing fear I experience just before crossing a gangplank.  As I’ve said before in a blog entry on my irrational phobias, it has less to do with the physical vessel and everything to do with its function.  Boats “float” in bodies of water;  bodies of water –  and the things that live in them – are deadly.  I don’t do deadly.

As a general rule, I avoid boat travel like the plague.  As was the case four years ago, when I was traveling with my family in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  I took one look at the ferry to Cozumel, turned around and walked away.  I was not going to get on that boat.  Period.  End of discussion.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico 2008

In recent years, however, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot live my life in absolutes.  Inflexibility stunts personal growth, and frankly, makes for a very boring life.  When it comes right down to it, who aspires to have a boring life?  No one, that’s who.  We all want to look back on the past with some measure of accomplishment – that we didn’t squander a lifetime away doing nothing but shaking in our boots, scared of our own shadow.  It took me a long time to figure that out.

Bearing this new discovery in mind, I jumped at the chance to meet up with one of my oldest friends in New York City in September 2009.  Okay.  Perhaps “jumped at” is a bit of an overstatement.  There were many things about that trip that caused the little anxiety troll inside my head to scream out in panic.  The trip would coincide with the anniversary of 9/11 and would entail leaving Megan behind for more than a day or two.  I am not a spiritual person but I am prone to superstition.  For me, the whole set up seemed to tempt fate.  Seriously bad mojo in the making; and I just knew that if I went, I was doomed to perish.  But this time I didn’t listen to my nagging fear monster.  I spit in the eye of fate and went with my husband to New York City, had a fabulous time, and even rode the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands – in a rainstorm with choppy seas; on September 11th.

Ferry to Liberty and Ellis Island, New York 2009

And survived.

Take that bad mojo.

(Good thing I didn’t learn about this until I was home safe and sound.)

In January, my husband and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary.  A milestone, to be sure, in this day and age of rampant divorce.  Our special day falls very close to Christmas, so it is not unusual for us to forego gifts, opting instead for a simple dinner out alone.  This year, however, given the significance of the anniversary, we decided to take the honeymoon we weren’t able to afford when we first married.  We looked at a lot of places and agreed that Cabo San Lucas, Mexico was where we wanted to spend five days playing the part of newlyweds.

Cabo is a beautiful place, romantic and serene – almost magical.  Perhaps it was this bit of magic that possessed me to agree to go on a whale watching expedition.  The conditions were perfect for sighting one or two and, for us, it was something new – uncharted.  That was what this trip was all about, after all.  Trying something new.  We booked it.

Then I saw the boat.

Inflatable raft would be a more adequate description.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 2011

To say I was scared to death would be an understatement and to be honest, most of the two and a half hour boat ride is one big blur.  I spent a good deal of the time clinging to the side rope, praying to a God I haven’t spoken to in years, and trying not think about how very deep the guide said the water was beneath our feet – or what may be lurking there.  The point at which the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean is rough, dark and cold.  Terrifying – made even worse by the boat’s Captain who at the barest hint of a “blow” on the horizon was off like a shot, bearing down on the unsuspecting whales at speeds that where not conducive to safe boating under any conditions.  I was seriously reconsidering the status of my own sanity at this point.  I wanted the hell off this “boat” in the worst way.

Then I saw my first whale.

They are a sight to behold.  Like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I almost forgot where I was – almost.  Whales move quickly, so you only have a minute – sometimes mere seconds, to take in the their majestic beauty.  The experience left me in total awe.   As did the incredible sunset.

Sunset - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 2011

When I stepped off the boat at the end of the tour, I was relieved. I really had my doubts that I would make it back to shore in one piece.  I was also overwhelmed with the sense of accomplishment I felt at facing down my fear.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still scared shitless, but I hadn’t allowed it to control me.

Will I ever do that again?

Absolutely not.  But now I can say that I did it once and that’s enough for me.

Author: Peggy Isaacs

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