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Fear of boats and things that float

Fear of flying helpI have never enjoyed anything that is connected with water. I don’t like swimming I don’t like sailing I don’t enjoy walking to the end of a pier. I don’t particularly enjoy standing under a shower apart from the pleasure of being clean and refreshed. Anything else makes me anxious.

When we booked to go to Portugal I nodded in agreement when two car ferry journeys, each of 24 hours on were suggested. Like many fearful flyers do when they think of flying I just put it to the back of my head.


Days, weeks and months ticked by but the holiday was always so far in the future that I didn’t think of them. Until it suddenly hit me that I really was going on a boat across the Bay of Biscay at night in a cabin under the water line. Although I tell fearful flyers that anything you see on the telly or the movies is nonsense, my mind started replaying the Titanic film and other films of disasters at sea.

I could imagine being on board and being woken by the ship tilting, the lights going out, people screaming and the cabin filling with water.  Of course, you can’t open doors when there’s water outside, well so I believe, the ship would probably tip over like the one in the Poseidon  Adventure and so on and so on. Though I don’t use the word normally it really was a night mare situation. As the day of departure grew closer I became more and more anxious.

Fortunately just before we left a fearful flyer was asking me about planes and whether they’re ‘balanced on a knife edge ‘ when they fly and so on. I explained that nothing happens so quickly in flight that would require the pilot to act within seconds to save the situation and then the  fearful flyer chanced to say “you mean like boats don’t suddenly sink do they?” I agreed and we carried on chatting. The conversation ended with that person’s commitment to take his flight.

“You mean like boats don’t suddenly sink do they?”

I started to think about what I heard. And so I ‘sat’ in the cabin of the boat and imagined that it was night time and that something went wrong.  I took myself mentally out of my imaginary cabin and thought how I’d probably be feeling. First which way would I go, how long would I have, what would I need to know and slowly, very slowly I changed a fictitious situation into one that was more likely … it wasn’t easy because I had to structure my thoughts and think of realistic things, not fictional rubbish. Then I thought about that statement ” boats don’t suddenly sink do they.” So I drilled that into my head, boats don’t suddenly sink, boats don’t suddenly sink, boats don’t suddenly sink until I realised that though there could be an exception the fact was that boats don’t suddenly sink.

When I was on the ship I read the emergency information I watched the emergency video, I thought about the six long blasts and the one short one, I thought about the abandon ship signal, I knew where the assembly points were and where I could find a life jacket. After finding the cabin I walked the route to the assembly point, I walked it again with my eyes half closed and did lots of things that I doubt many other people do or did.

But I don’t care what others do, I wanted to feel less anxious and I found my way of doing it. Sure I wasn’t running around the deck jumping for joy and I was happy when I saw land. But how daft is that? I can’t swim 20 lengths of a swimming pool but when dry land was only 20 miles away I felt safe.

The Bay of Biscay, notoriously choppy according to my old geography teacher 50 years ago, was like a mill pond. What had I been worrying about? The answer is I was worried about the things I could think up, not the things that were probable. I accept that we could have collided with another ship and sunk quickly, but how realistic is that with radar and crew on the bridge looking out?

So with my sensible head on, a with only a little anxiety (that I took along for the ride) I succeeded in doing something that for years I had been petrified of.

It’s easy to give advice but a whole lot harder to take it, especially if it’s your own!

So what did I learn that I can pass on?

I’m human I’m allowed to be anxious

I needed to Face the fear

I found the facts to help me

I had something to recite to myself

Do it.


Fear of flying Courses


Captain Keith  (seasoned sailor)


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