Chloe-Louise Saunders wins this week’s Just Back travel writing competition, and £250, for her account of a close encounter in the waters off the coast of Australia.
“Did you know that most shark attacks happen in shallow water?” Our captain’s eyes shine as he watches our faces in reaction to this, a small smile at the edge of his mouth.
“Are you serious?” I say, wishing the wobble out of my voice.
Early morning sun glints off the rolling surface of the New South Wales sea. Looming above us to the left is a group of jagged brown rocks. The water reveals and then obscures the slimy, mollusc-infested lower regions of the rocks as the swell rises and falls. We are about a mile from the shore; I can just about see the tiny outlines of surfers closer to Byron Bay’s beach, if I squint that way.
We are on a snorkelling trip “to see green turtles”, as the excited receptionist at our hostel put it. But as our little boat heads out to our rocky snorkelling spot, the conversation, inevitably, turns to sharks. Nurse and leopard sharks are common here, we are told, but bigger species have been seen in these parts before. Our captain, like a lot of Aussies, clearly finds a special glee in teasing out a few nerves from his customers when it comes to the local fauna.