Kate Springer, CNN
For 33-year-old Sarah Richard, life has long revolved around scuba diving. As the founder of Girls that Scuba, billed as the world’s largest women’s scuba diving community, she was constantly traveling to host scuba trips and events prior to the pandemic.
It wouldn’t be unusual for Richard to spend a few weeks in Jordan, then fly to Egypt and then to Mexico, Micronesia, the Maldives or Indonesia to immerse divers in the magic of the underwater world.
When it came to her love life, the divemaster envisioned meeting a dive instructor or maybe someone in the travel industry with a similar nomadic lifestyle. Eventually, she focused fully on her mission to empower women in the male-dominated diving industry.
In fact, nothing could throw them off – not even the pandemic – but Richard was wrong about one thing. The love of her life wouldn’t be a teacher she met on a liveaboard in Raja Ampat or a resort on Socorro Island. It would be a passionate asparagus grower from the South West of England.
Away from the tracks
It all started with a mid-December visit to her hometown of Hastings on the south coast of England for Christmas 2018.
After living and diving in Mexico for four months, Richard was in town for a few days and had a busy schedule of holiday events. One morning she took the train to London for the day to reconnect with friends she met in Hong Kong a few years ago.
“I don’t usually go to London…never,” Richard recalls. “It was the first time in absolute years.”
After a day out with her friends, Richard had to return to Hastings, which is about 90 minutes south-east by train, at 9pm for a Christmas party
But when she got to the metro station, it was closed for repairs. She rushed to get an Uber to London Bridge station in central London hoping to catch the next train, but missed it due to heavy traffic.
Richard sat at the train station for about an hour. By this point her phone’s battery was dead and she was unable to update her friends in Hastings.
“I finally got on the train and it’s leaving London and I’m so excited to be coming to the party. But then, about half an hour later, an announcement says that the train has to stop because it breaks down and everyone has to get off. And I thought, come on…”
Her long evening of transit woes continued – and she had to travel all the way back to London and sit on the platform for another 90 minutes. This time she was waiting for the last train of the evening.
“Because my phone was dead, I didn’t have a chance to talk on the train,” she recalls. “I just said to myself, ‘What would you do if you were on a train in another country? You would just talk to someone.’”
And then Joel Gostling went on and sat down.
love on the rails
“When Joel got on the train, all I was like was… ‘Hi’.”
The couple hit it off right away and chatted with Hastings throughout the journey. He made a strong first impression – “a real English boy” who was down to earth and easy to talk to, says Richard.
“He had his own asparagus field, which is unusual, and really enjoys just being outside. I got the immediate impression that he wasn’t materialistic,” she recalls, adding that he didn’t over-romanticize her nomadic life.
“Joel thought it was cool all my travels and the places I’ve been, but he also thought the life he’d built on his farm was cool, and that’s it.”
Gostling grew up in a village called Dalwood in Devon, south-west England, where his primary school had 30 children, and he felt at home on a farm, in the fields or in a local pub.
After working at a famous farm restaurant and cookery school, River Cottage in Devon, Gostling turned one of his parents’ fields into an asparagus farm in 2015 and sold the hand-picked asparagus to restaurants in the area.
Towards the end of the trip, Gostling asked Richard for her number, but she had no idea what it was. She had just exchanged a Mexican SIM card for a British number and her phone was dead.
“I really didn’t know my number but wanted him to be able to reach me. So I said, ‘This is going to sound selfish, but if you just google ‘Sarah Richard’ you can find me on Instagram and find my email address.”
Gostling was determined to contact her.
“She was interesting, beautiful, mysterious, engaging. I was amazed at how well we hit it off and I knew I couldn’t get off the train without asking for her,” he recalls.
Richard eventually made it back to Hastings only to fly to Finland the next day to spend Christmas with her brother and his family.
She hoped to hear from Gostling but didn’t respond further. Eventually, Richard had a busy calendar ahead of him with plans to fly back and forth between Mexico and the Middle East for diving trips.
Gostling didn’t hesitate to seek out Richard online. An email later, their relationship was taking shape.
They began to keep in touch remotely, with Richard making pit stops in the UK for two to three weeks between trips.
“I was pretty focused on staying on track. I said, ‘If you want to come, come with me, but I’m not coming down,'” she says. “My travel plan was really intense. And he knew right away that that was my lifestyle. And that’s the way it should always be.”
The dynamic worked well for her. They both focused on what they were most passionate about while cherishing their time together. In 2019, Richard and Gostling moved in together, which only deepened their connection.
“I realized that actually what I wanted is to have someone who is the complete opposite of me. So I can always do my thing and then come back and I like to have something else to talk about,” says Richard.
“Really, the only thing that changed was that he was there to pick me up at the airport. It was so cute because each time he had a different sign with a different phrase on it.”
Gostling didn’t mind either, and all the while he was making a plan to show Richard how much she meant to him. “If you know, you know,” he adds.
A surprising proposal
On December 15, 2019, exactly a year after they met on the train, Gostling orchestrated a surprise proposal.
Richard’s best friend Lucy invited her to see the musical The Lion King in London.
“On the same [route]On the same platform, Joel got off the train, got on one knee and proposed to me.”
The whole time, says Gostling, it was absolutely “nerve-wracking.” It took a lot of time and effort to coordinate – “I started planning on October 6th and then proposed December 15th. It took so long!”
After they became engaged, Richard continued to travel while Gostling concentrated on his farm. In early 2020, Richard turned her ambitions to Jordan, where she hoped to start a Middle East branch of Girls that Scuba.
The couple moved to Jordan and began building a life for themselves there. Gostling planned to work remotely and return to England during harvest season. They were there just four days before the country went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The British Embassy arranged flights and we ended up getting a flight home, but it cost around £3,000 (about $3,920),” Richard laments.
It also meant that Richard could no longer conduct their diving trips.
“When travel stopped completely, most of my income was gone because it came from taking people to trips and events. So Joel had no income [because he worked in the restaurant industry]. I had no income. It was awful.”
The ultimate test
With no place to live and no income, they had to move in with Gostling’s parents in Devon.
For Gostling, moving home was a blessing in disguise. Chef Andy Tyrell, who Joel had worked with at River Cottage, invited Joel to set up a pop-up kitchen with him.
The couple dubbed it Goose & Badger, and while navigating lockdowns on a number of occasions, they established a following for their multi-course meals and delicious burgers.
The pop-up was so successful that Gostling and Tyrell opened a restaurant called Soulshine in Bridport in May 2021, specializing in seasonal, fresh dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
While Richard’s nomadic life came to an abrupt end, she found places to dive along the coast of England and continued to grow her online community.
“It was such a chance encounter and while there have been hard times, we are both so sure that we are with the person we were meant to be with. It just makes everything so much better, even in these difficult times,” she says.
Gostling can only agree. “Even after spending so much time together, I still love her,” he jokes. “It was really a good test – we found that we can get through anything.”
“Everything else is bonus”
The couple originally hoped for a 200-person wedding in June 2020 in Gostling’s parents’ garden, but they scrapped that plan due to the pandemic.
Instead, they threw a small outdoor ceremony for 12 and postponed a larger celebration until September 2021. “Basically we had to get married twice and have two parties – it turned out so nice!” says Richard, now called Sarah Gostling.
After the wedding in September, Richard picked up exactly where she left off and has been flying around the world ever since. “It’s like riding a bike. It feels so natural to be traveling again,” she says.
“It was also amazing to see other people getting back into the ocean and realizing that this is what binds us together [scuba diving] community, and it’s just beautiful.”
The couple also went on a belated honeymoon, spending three weeks in Lapland, Finland, where Richard’s brother and family live, and Turkey.
The newlyweds stayed in an igloo with a sauna, rode in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and went snowboarding for the first time. They traded the snowy landscapes for sunshine and fantastic food in Istanbul, then crowned their honeymoon in magical Cappadocia among cone-shaped rock formations and cave hotels.
“In lieu of wedding gifts, we had a honeymoon fund that all of our friends and family contributed to, so it’s very special that we were able to go to these places because of gifts from our friends and family,” says Richard.
Looking back, Richard says she felt like she was on the “other side” of the pandemic. They’ve found a house to rent, Gostling’s restaurant is thriving, and Richard’s dive community is riding a new wave of momentum.
Richard has already hosted two Girls that Scuba trips this year – the first in the Galapagos followed by another in the Red Sea.
“When I think about it, it’s only three years. But in those three years we managed to survive a global pandemic, he lost his job, I lost all my income, we had to move back in with his parents in our 30s,” says Richard.
“We’ve been through a lot. It just makes us think we only need each other, and that’s it. Anything else is a bonus.”
The CNN Wire
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