Susan Scott: Shark encounters, water spouts and koalas

We’ll be home this weekend after another voyage here in Australia’s world heritage site waters. Near the end of our trips, Craig and I enjoy rehashing our favorite — or most memorable — moments.

We had two uncommon incidents, three counting the shark that approached Craig while he was swimming. I didn’t see it, but his story left a vivid picture in my mind.

After trying to snorkel on Otter Reef, we found the tide high, the water murky and the sun low, conditions that made the water feel a bit too sharky for me. I boarded the dinghy we were towing with us. Craig, however, decided to swim back to Honu for exercise. I puttered near him with the outboard, joking that I would collect the body parts.

When we got back to Honu’s boarding ladder, he said, “A big shark came to check me out.”

“Did you get a picture?” I asked. At least one shark had moseyed past us during each snorkel excursion, usually resulting in distant pictures of their rear ends. This one, though, which Craig estimated to be about 10 feet long, made a U-turn and swam straight toward him.

“Um, no,” he said. “I thought I might have to fight it off. We were eye to eye.”

“That close? Were you scared?”

“Well, it had all my attention. (I took that as a yes.) But then it turned around and left, so I finished my swim.”

Sigh. That’s my Craig.

A more distant, but no less attention-getting, sight occurred another day on Walker Reef when we saw in the near distance a water spout, the ocean’s version of a tornado. The cloud’s black funnel was all too clear, as was the fury it was causing on the water’s surface. Like our sharks, however, the twister passed us by.

Another occurrence that put us on red alert came in a phone call from Townsville’s Breakwater Marina telling us that someone called to report that Honu was dragging anchor in Horseshoe Bay. On a windy day, which it was, this is a quick way to lose a boat to the rocks or reef.

We were at the moment hiking one of Magnetic Island’s superb trails where we saw seven koala bears in the wild. Earlier, friendly rock wallabies hopped around us, babies peeking out of their mothers’ pouches, while cockatoos and kookaburras called overhead.

We raced back to the anchorage and found our boat had indeed moved, forcing the boat behind to relocate. The friendly Australian skipper who had called had been keeping an eye on Honu, ready to jump aboard and start the engine should it be necessary.

It was not. We returned in time to fix the wayward anchor and then went back to admiring the koalas.

Sometimes exploring by boat is so frustrating, and occasionally so alarming, that I wonder why we keep doing it. But as a parchment plaque my friend made for me says, “Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.”

Also, when an ordeal is over, it’s a story to tell.

To reach Susan Scott, go to and click on “Contact” at the top of her home page.


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