Sitting around a worn wooden table in the open side of a thatch-roofed hut, looking out over the sparkling water of a lagoon in PNG’s Hermit Islands, we listened to tales of mermaids. Like the school teacher in the Louisiades, the subsistence fishermen we met here believed fervently in the (red-skinned, black-haired) sirens that hid underwater.
Little did I know we’d foster sweet mermaids (and a merman) of our own. Our kids weren’t swimmers at ages 4, 6, and 9 when we cut the docklines; they weren’t interested in it at all. At times, I felt like a bad parent, as we moved aboard to take off for a life of sailing and had to answer the question “how long have your kids been swimming?” with – “they don’t, actually.” But warmer water and pretty fish helped the cause, and all three had transitioned into water bugs by the time we were in French Polynesia.
Two years into cruising, our littlest had gone from piggy-back “snorkeling” to being first in the dinghy with ALL her gear on, or challenging her siblings to swim laps around the boat. Our middle child happily dove for sea stars, and the kid who only played in the shallow water during pool lessons and didn’t like to get his head wet wanted nothing more than to go scuba diving.
Neither Jamie or I did much swimming before we went cruising. I’m still surprised by how much it has become part of who we are. More swimming was inevitable: I just never dreamed it would be a passion, driving us to chase the good spots, improve freediving skills, come to love a day spent entirely at play in the water.
For both of us, water time- when we’re not cleaning the bottom- is about donning snorkeling gear and exploring a reef. What kind of fish and corals are there? Echinoderms? Molluscs? What’s the bottom like? How’s the biodiversity? Spotting a nudibranch will make my day. Anyone following Totem’s Facebook feed knows as soon as we hit a good spot and the underwater pictures begin flowing!
The kids, by contrast, are usually happiest just swimming around the boat – jumping off the bow, paddling to the stern and up the swim step, then charging forward to repeat the cycle.
Adding extra fun to this was a gift from our friend Brian of the trawler Furthur, a salty guy with a soft spot for the kids. It’s mutual: we’ve chalked up some great memories with him and shared anchorages from Mexico, to Australia, and into Southeast Asia. Brian found mermaid tails.
It started with a message from Brian that just said- “I never get to get kids Christmas gifts, so I want to get your girls one of these.” Brian may not have kids or grandkids of his own, but he HAS mastered the art of spreading joy through giving –helping a family of eight rebuild their home after a typhoon swept through in 2013 is just one awesome example.
I had no idea these mermaid existed until he told us he wanted to send the girls their very own- a treat that’s powered hours of fun.
The mermaid tails are comprised of a polycarbonate monofin that has booties built into the neoprene cover. A lycra suit covers the fin while joining legs into a slender tail. You can get them on Amazon or direct from Fin Fun Mermaids (no affiliation).
Thank you Brian, from the mermaids on Totem! And, thank you Armand for taking these gorgeous mermaid photos of the girls, and of Jamie swimming the reef in Moheli. I haven’t been happy with photos I get of the kids wearing them, but we had two skilled photographer / freedivers on board in Comoros- Aline and Armand- and thanks to them, there are a pile of incredible underwater (and above water) photos of adventures together. For more of his images, check out Armand’s website, or his Facebook page– his photos are great, and his videos are stunning!
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