A run-in with the beach master

Me diving 2 smaller

It took me years to begin to understand how to behave properly in the sea.

Years ago, when I was a baby diver, I was on a boat off the coast of Mexico near San Carlos. I had just passed my dive certification and was pretty proud of myself. I thought my new license meant I was knowledgeable enough to stay safe in the sea. That the course and written and physical tests proved I knew what I was doing in that watery world.

I was wrong.

On this day, we were anchored off a small island where we saw a group of seals basking on a beach of tan sand. Dark, rocky cliffs rose behind the creatures, most of whom sunned themselves or snoozed, taking seal naps.

“The females are brown,” the dive master explained.

Later, that bit of information would prove vital.

“The males are darker. Almost black.”

As we were taking a break between dives, I grabbed my mask and fins and jumped in for a closer look. I half expected other divers to join me, but no one did.

“Be careful!” my sweetie pie called from the boat.

I swam toward the beach. Be careful? I reflected on the creatures I’d seen in countless videos, swirling and playing, cute, jovial beasts, suitable for children’s stuffed toys. The sea floor rose as I swam, my eyes fixed on the seals. Several reclined in a group. One large animal perched nearby. Then, I heard the bellowing, like a moose call. The larger seal, snout pointed at the sky, called again.

Here’s where you can call me a dope. Because, I kept swimming toward the beach. Why you ask? Well, that seal appeared to be brown. So, no worries. I understood a male seal with a harem might be problematic, but I didn’t see any black seals.

Bull Seal 2

A large seal like this one – which I would later learn was called the beach master – perched by a group of other seals.

The large animal locked eyes with me and bellowed again. I instantly dropped my feet to the sand, my spidey senses on high alert. Then the seal waddled off the beach and plunged into the water.

That dark body came at me like a torpedo, barely submerged. My stomach dropped. There was no way I could out swim the beast. I thought I might be sick. Would the animal spear me or bite me? Either way, the confrontation would be ugly.

I braced for impact. But, when the seal was within about ten feet of me, he veered sharply to the right, and disappeared under the water. I stood frozen, wondering if he might attack from a different angle.

Nothing happened.

I waited.

Then, the seal roared up onto the beach, flipped around and bellowed again. I didn’t need a second invitation to leave. I turned and swam back to the boat, kicking as hard as I could, all the while wondering if the seal was on my tail.

“You’re lucky,” my sweetie pie said, as he helped me into the boat. “You could have been bitten.”

I was breathing heavily as I stared at the beach. The male seal – that I later learned was called the beach master, meaning the animal that owned and protected the harem – stood defiantly on the sand, still gazing in my direction.

Today, I realize that I will always be just a visitor in the sea. And, if I am to survive as a guest in that world, I must always be respectful and vigilant, or I might end up with some bite marks.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)


Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook


As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

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