When I turned 18, my high school graduation gift from my grandparents was a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida via a borrowed motor home. So I drove my very last rural 52-mile long newspaper delivery route and threw my last newspaper at about 2:30am on a warm June morning. Then I drove the 40 miles to my grandparents house, and parked my Ford Ranger in the driveway. I stepped out of the divers side door and into the side entry of the motor home, laid down on the cab-over bed and promptly fell asleep before we left the driveway.
What I did not realize at the time was that the route my grandfather had chosen was via coastal roads. It was during this trip that I smelled and felt the ocean for the first time, once in Alabama, then several times more in Florida. Though I was still afraid of the ocean, and more specifically fearful of extremely large predatory great white sharks hell bent on swallowing me whole, I wandered in up to my knees a few times during that trip. I do not remember feeling any draw to the ocean during those days. Our stops were merely waypoints on a family trip to Disney, and that is how I perceived them, though in my middle years, I look back on these days with great fondness.
I do not know if it was the fact that I had come to terms with my quest to live on a sailboat during my time temporarily assigned to duty in Alaska, or if having lived near the ocean for so many years now that I finally just accepted the danger of large predatory sharks. But I finally fully entered the salt water. I first started in the brackish channels of the Intracoastal Waterway near Great Bridge. I took my Kawasaki jet ski and learned to ride in the canals and back waters. Eventually I made my way out into the Atlantic Ocean off of the beaches of Virginia Beach. It probably helped that I played beach volleyball and witnessed thousands of tourists entering and swimming in the waters with nary a shark bite among them. However, the adrenaline I felt while riding the stand-up jet ski of the good ole days (before they eventually became crummy sit-on "personal water craft") out in the Atlantic served to keep me upright most of the time, and if I did fall in, I was back up in a rapid fashion with the knowledge that Jaws just might have a personal vendetta against just me, the beach tourists too fatty for his tastes.
Eventually, I purchased my first sailboat, which put me on the water more or less, permanently. The more I lived on the water, the more comfortable I became with what lurked beneath. Over the months and years I became more comfortable being in the water. Once I started cruising, and began visiting places with clear waters in south Florida, the Bahamas, and Caribbean, I learned to share the ocean with the predators that lived there. It took time, but I had finally overcome one of my greatest fears, which in turn led to some of my fondest memories and some of the best times of my life.