Kristan Higgins
Kristan Higgins


Jaunty Post

…or My Brush with Death (stop laughing, Jaunty!).

GBRYeah. So here’s the thing. I don’t really like the ocean. Jaws ruined me. Plus, you can’t breathe in the water, which I find disconcerting. I’m not a bad swimmer; I’m not a really strong swimmer, either. But when it came time to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef during my recent trip to Australia, I didn’t want to miss out. Once in a lifetime chance, yadda yadda.

In the promotional ads and brochures, they show this very attractive couple frisking about in shallow water. Stand-up kind of water. They didn’t show the boat dropping you off in choppy seas with waves breaking on the sharp and jagged coral nearby. But drop us off they did. “Into the water, darling, good on you!” the merry captain said, not realizing that seven-foot swells were daunting for some of us (me, for example). I immediately flashed back to the summer I was four, when my swimming instructor tossed me in the deep end of the pool (my first near-drowning), and the time my brother bounced me off the diving board and I cut my head (my second near-drowning) and the time my dad lost his grip on me in the rough surf of Cape Cod (my third near-drowning). Are you sensing a pattern?

Nevertheless, I jumped (fell) into the water and looked. And yes, it was magical. Life affirming. Surreal.

sharkIt was also frickin’ deep! Fifty feet of clear blue water. Sharks possibly swimming nearby, not to mention moray eels, giant squid and clams that might at any moment clamp down on my leg and hold me underwater, like in that movie I saw when I was six. Did I mention potential sharks lurking nearby?

Lucky for me, McIrish, sainted husband and rescue swimmer, LOVES the ocean. So he held my hand, and we snorkeled away. Pretty fishies everywhere. Coral. Cool plants. More beautiful fishes. No sharks (that I could see), no giant clamping clams. There was, however, a great deal of saltwater, and while I do know not to drink it, I kept popping my head up (to see how far we were from the boat), and to take the snorkel out of my mouth, because I was freaked out from breathing through a plastic tube. And apparently, I swallowed some sea water.

bircherFive minutes or an eternity later, I said to McIrish, “I need to go back to the boat. I don’t feel so good.” And then I puked. And when I puke, my throat closes up. Not in an allergic, Epi-pen way…just in an “Oh, gross!” kind of way. It caused something I hadn’t foreseen: a feeding frenzy. Disgusting, I know, but there was my Bircher Muesli, and there was the feeding frenzy. As I tried unsuccessfully to breathe, McIrish grabbed me in traditional rescue swim hold and began waving down the lifeguard. Who didn’t see us. My throat opened long enough for me to puke again. I mentally apologized to my fellow snorkelers, though hoped they would appreciate the thick cluster of fishies who were enjoying my breakfast.

A tiny German girl came swimming toward me like a Labrador, strong and brave, and gave me her floatie. Another swimmer came to hold my other arm. I began making elk-like, bugling noises as I sucked in air, then puked again. McIrish kept yelling, and I heard the engine of the rescue launch fire up. The whole time, I was thinking, “This is nasty/I knew I wasn’t meant to swim/Keep kicking so you don’t drown/Are there any sharks nearby?”

rescuelaunchThen the rescue launch was there, and the mate cheerfully told me he was going to haul me into the boat, did the same, said, “Did you swallow salt water, darling? That was stupid of you, wasn’t it?” and took me back to the boat, where another crew member patted my shoulder and laughed. McIrish, who often rescues people in distress, was rather touchingly affected, since the vic was also his wife, and kissed me repeatedly, vomit-breath notwithstanding. The other 67 passengers were quite solicitous (hey, it’s not every day you get to see the rescue launch deployed), and seemed quite fond of me, as I’d made them feel better about themselves.

At the next stop on the reef, the water was calmer. Did I want to go in again? I did. This time, I kept my mouth shut.

And hey. It’s not everyone who can add “rescued at sea” to her list of life accomplishments.

As I’m filled with gratitude at still being alive, how’s about I give away a book to one of you? Leave a comment, and I’ll send one of you a signed copy of MY ONE AND ONLY, in which our hero and heroine have their own brush with death, though theirs happens on land.

86 thoughts on “Kristan Higgins Swims with the Fishes

  1. Tania says:

    My husband & I are scuba divers. I just have a basic certification, but my husband has his Advanced certification, Dive Master certification & he’s also a certified Rescue Diver. We recently did a night dive…my first & likely LAST. Even with my own personal rescue diver holding my hand, I found the night dive terrifying. Tarpon are freakin’ huge & love to swim with the flashlights. Just sayin’.

    I think it’s easier to breathe underwater (with scuba gear, of course!) than it is to snorkel…especially in choppy water. BTW…I have no desire to dive with sharks. My hubs has done that too. Crazy man!

  2. Solveig says:

    This blog is strangely terrifying and hilariously funny at the same time Kristan 😆
    I almost drowned as well when I was 6. I don´t remember much about it and thankfully it has not prevented me from enjoying swimming immensely though the years. The reason I almost drowned is that I was so excited to start learning I jumped into the deep end in my first swimming class. Not the most intelligent thing to do but there you are. Incidentally I was fished out of the pool by a the pool guy with a pole because he could not swim. 😯 Thankfully it was a small pool. I´m glad you got “back on the horse” as it were smart girl. 😀

  3. Sue G. says:

    I have snorkled…on my honeymoon in Antigua but thankfully the water was calm.

    I did have a near death experience when I was 17. We were at Ocean City, MD on vacation. I was body surfing with my 16 yr old, 6′ 2″ 225 lb brother. The waves started going crazy and we had an undertow. I was 5′ 2″, 115 lb at the time and couldn’t get out of the undertow. I kept yelling for my brother. The thought I was joking…I was a certified lifeguard! Well after a few horrible minutes, I was finally rescued by a lifeguard. Ever since then if the waves are rough, I won’t go out.

  4. Kathy says:

    What a woman! Loved the story and am glad you made it out OK. And that you were so kind as to lure all those other fishes for your rescuers to see.
    It looked like an amazing trip. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Renee Mulholland says:

    I will start by apologizing for laughing hysterically at your distress 😆 I really am sorry, for the giggles I will not be able to stop for the rest of the day. But at least you can check being ‘rescued at sea’ off your bucket list. Right? Having never snorkels and having the same fear of sharks and other creepy crawlies in the ocean I commend you on your bravery. 😀

  6. Sue Peace says:

    I am so sorry to laugh at your misfortune, but that is hilarious!!! Especially the feeding frenzy your vomit initiated!!! Thank you for sharing this, and I’m really glad you are ok!!! And good for you for going back in the water!!

  7. CrystalGB says:

    Wow, what an experience. I admire you for giving it another try. 🙂

  8. peggy c. says:

    I was starting to laugh until i realized it would be like laughing at my son he is so afraid of the water and he panics if he goes in he is 30 now and found a 23 yr old surfer bad news huh she wasnts him to take pictures of her but the only way for him to take all his cameras is to get into the ocean so he secretly is taking beginning swim lessons at the gym where he works the only person he told is his great grandpa and grandpa told me just because jos gets to his house late on mon and i moved to iowa 10 yrs ago and get worried if i dont hear from him by a certain hour so i am so proud of him inside it makes me tear up every time i think of it but his brush was taking swim lessons and he started to drown and the girl kept yelling swim well i dove in and pulled him to the side and they had to recicitate him ..

  9. CateS says:

    Oh shades of our 10th anniversary cruise… not that anyone got sick and attracted fish.. but the chop and floaties..and it was my hubby who isn’t a great swimmer.. also it was amazing that he got seasick between Purto Rico and Aruba.. but not on the little bouncy bouncy boat out to snorkel…

    PS Peggy… I’m hoping that your son as a little guy didn’t have that awful experience with swimming while taking American Red Cross lessons… and I do hope you complained!! non-swimmers are non-swimmers.. that’s why they are taking lessons… what a stupid inconsiderate instructor!!

  10. Helen says:


    Although I live in Australia and have been on a couple of cruises to some wonderful islands I have never snorkled and yep I will stay that way I give you 10 points for doing this I could never. I am glad that you made it and that you had a great time while here in Oz and I am still way over the moon for having met you.

    Have Fun

  11. Timitra says:

    Glad you lived to tell to tale and thanks for the great contest!

  12. Liz V. says:

    “Once in a lifetime chance” to me equals “you won’t live to have another”, but I admit to fear. About to plunge into a lagoon, I was handed a harpoon and told to watch for: eyes in the sand = stingrays; moray eels; and sharks. Spent my time on the beach. What’s a little sun burn and skin cancer (years hence) compared to those sea critters.

  13. Oh, my gosh. You are so funny! You made me snort my tea! Thanks for the laugh and for returning to us safe and sound. 😆

  14. Melody May says:

    Oh goodness. Only you would have an experience like that , but chances are I would be the same way. Glad you came back alive and well.

  15. Again, so happy to have entertained with my near-death experience! McIrish and I both laughed about it…it was hard not to. And all’s well that ends well!

  16. Dawn DiPersio says:

    Knowing it all ended well, I felt free to giggle enough my husband had to find out what was so funny. I was a lifeguard for 4 years and pulled out several people but fortunately puke was never involved. I am glad you are okay and have enough humility to share!

  17. Amber Mentzell says:

    I have ichthyophobia so your story is terrifying in more ways than one. Fish AND puke?!

  18. Marcy Shuler says:

    How sweetly gross and funny at the same time. It’s nice to know you have your own built in romance hero/rescue swimmer in McIrish!

  19. Jeannie Moon says:

    Oh, Kristan. Oh, dear…yeah, don’t swallow salt water.

    I happen to be a strong swimmer, I love boats, and roller coasters…nothing bothers me much. Of course, there’s always a first time. On my honeymoon, hubby and I took a day trip to a small Caribbean island via high speed boat. The boat flew over the choppy water, bouncing and lurching and I got seasick. I felt better once we landed, and we had a nice day, but we had to get back to our resort. We loaded up on Dramamine and even though it had started to rain, I sat outside, in a storm, to keep from getting sick again.

    Not fun. At least the people with you were nice. The only one who was sweet to me was DH.

  20. Pat Powers says:

    I am so with you about the not being able to just freaks me out!! I have snorkled once, in Cozamel, and as much as I loved seeing fish etc, I couldnt get past the fear.
    So glad this had a happy ending, and so impressed that you try it again….I think I would have been in the corner of the boat having a meltdown!!
    And arent you so lucky to have a hubby who doesnt panic!!

  21. tamib says:

    No ocean for me either. I once had an episode involving the Coast Guard in frog gear. You’re preachin’ to the choir sister.

  22. Kathy Rando Giannone says:

    Wow! You had more than one experience with near-drowning & yet you went in & gave it a shot. Kudos! The fact that you tried again shortly after McIrish saved you is really cause for a cheer! I like the ocean, but I probably would have not stepped foot back in shortly after the first scare. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

  23. Eileen A-W says:

    This almost sounds like a Kristan & Jill story but better because McIrish was there to help you & love you, despite all. I’m glad you tried again and enjoyed. Scuba diving in calm shallow water is on my bucket list. Thank you for sharing your story. You make me laugh.

  24. Nikki H says:

    Somehow I didn’t think this was a funny story. More a scary story. And salt water tastes gross. With huge waves like that, no wonder you ended up swallowing some. Ugh. So glad McIrish was there and kudos to you for trying it again. On a different note, it was lovely of you to feed the fish that day.

  25. Aisa says:


    I did puke my breakfast too several years ago when I went snorkeling in Bali. Unfortunately, there was no brave man to save me (and my fellow friends) from the ickiness.

    The sad thing was even the fish were not that eager to approach er, my food remnants.

    At least, you’ve got a rescue story 😀

  26. Charlene says:

    I,m glad that you,re okay! Thank you for the chance at the giveaway.

  27. Rhonda says:

    Kristan, you always make me laugh! I laughed so hard that I was afraid I might rupture something and I had to stop reading to regain my composure. Then I had to read it again outloud so my co-worker would know why I was laughing hysterically. What an awesome snorkeling experience…and you got to feed the fish!

  28. Yeah, yeah, laugh at my pain, sadists! I know I did. ; ) Glad you enjoyed the story!

    1. Rhonda says:

      You are one if my favorite authors. I appreciate your humor! I think my co-worker has decided to read some of your books I’ve been suggesting for over a year! (she’s a historical romance junkie!)

  29. osanna N. says:

    glad you are ok and McIrish was there with you

  30. Terri Brisbin says:

    Holy Moly Kristan! Glad you made it through!

  31. Karin Anderson says:

    If it makes you feel better, I almost drowned in a 3 foot pool when I was younger. Granted, a mean older boy was holding me under for fun…

  32. Deb Z. says:

    When my brother and I were young, we got caught on a current in the Wisconsin River. My brave older brother sent me bac to try and get the boat. We’re both alive today,so I guess his decision was alright.

  33. donna harris says:

    I’m sorry I had to laugh because you sound like something I would do. I like the water but not snorkeling, I have a thing about being under water. I have anxiety attacks so no way would I do it. I know I would open my mouth to breathe and puke my guts out. I’ll give you credit for being so brave. I learned how to swim at the city pool. I went with three of my brothers and their friends. Of course they didn’t want little sister hanging around. So when mom said watch out for your little sister they did they threw me in the 4 foot water and I thought I was drowning I came up coughing and gagging with a big smile on face. They knew right then and there I was going to blackmail them and I did. I never got out the until I had to go home. I taught myself how to swim. But still to this day I don’t put my head under water unless it’s in the shower. I have another story about me and brothers but that’s another time.

  34. Vickie P says:

    So glad you were able to successfully swim with the fishes–even after your rescue! I think I would have thrown in the towel after that! Glad your hubby was there to help!
    OK, now I have to admit to laughing hysterically as I read your story–knowing the outcome was a positive one–or why else would you be writing this blog?!
    I have purchased both the iBooks version of The Best Man to read while on my upcoming vacation (NO snorkeling involved) and the paperback version for my keeper shelf–since everyone says it is wonderful! Have read Somebody to Love and Catch of the Day, but not My One and Only yet!

  35. bn100 says:

    Thanks for sharing.

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