I sat there, huddled in the rocking dinghy. A yard from us was the hungry reef, with ocean frothed above it in perpetual breakers. The receding waves showed a 5 foot channel between the jagged coral heads, repeatedly filled and emptied with each swell. The reef grinned at us from beneath the traitorous surf, dripping in malicious expectation. Salt water slapped up against the low sides of our craft. Low hanging clouds spit rain down in our faces.
There was a man piloting our little life boat. He sat at the very back, his hand gripping the outboard motor's throttle, his eyes inscrutable slits against the elements. A Polynesian Charon. He studied the rise and fall of the grinding surf in the little channel, all our lives depending on his skill of reading the water. One seconds delay would catch us in the backwash of surf, a flow too powerful for our little motor, and we'd be swept back out to sea at the best, or dashed against the rocks at the worst. The coral here was ribbed in rows of living stone as fine and as sharp as razor blades. Soft flesh and the weakness of human muscles would prove no match for all the vast, ageless pull of the ocean surf. Once in the water, the waves will tumble you up, around, and speed you down in a quick, vicious somersault onto the jagged reef. Pray that you will already be dead when the waiting sharks get to you.
We waited as our Charon judged each wave. I was perversely reminded of playing jump rope, watching the great curve slowly rise up, then fall again with precision through the moment of truth, back to the ground and up again. He suddenly gunned the motor, and we sped on the front of a rising wave, breathless and gripping each other. A wall of spray smacked my face as the bow of our little craft assaulted the tumult over the reef. Salt was up my nose and on my tongue. The boat rocked precariously to one side as the ocean angrily made its strength felt. Our driver urged his little engine even higher. There was a moment of gasping, breathless struggle. Then man triumphed over nature. Inertia was overcome, we surged forward and the next instant were safely within the womb of the lagoon.