The water was murky under the boat. I couldn’t really see the muddy bottom and the pilings looked like shadows next to me. Looking toward the front of the boat I could see a bit more light as the slip opened up into the deeper water in the channel.

Armed with a plastic scrub brush with stiff white bristles, I was being paid $1/foot to scrub barnacles off of the underside of a fishing boat. Not too bad considering I could clean a 50-foot boat hull in a half hour or so. The larger sailboats that weren’t being used as much, and therefore collected more barnacles, took longer.

I usually wore a light wetsuit, a weight belt with minimal weights, and scuba gear. Besides the brush, I carried a small diving knife and an underwater flashlight. There was really nothing to be afraid of under the boat while working. There was a sign on the dock that said there was a diver underwater and the owner was aware I was there. There were generally no large fish around the docks.

What got to me every time, though, was the darkness and disorientation when you first jump in the water around the slip. The water was dark because the boat blocked the sunlight. It’s not unlike being in a room with no windows and then having the lights turned out. There’s a moment of confusion before you get your bearings. Except that in the water, you are doing this while generally weightless.

The darkness and disorientation weren’t something to be feared in this case. It was just something you had to work through as you adjusted to your surroundings.

I’m still not a fan of being in dark water, but I’ve become more comfortable with it over time as I’ve realized the fear exists mostly in my head. Countless hours under a boat in dark water staring at the underside of boats certainly helped with getting used to being in strange and unfamiliar situations–and how to cope.

Sometimes, it just takes time and a realization that there was nothing to fear in the first place.

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