Being left alone in the Pacific, has left me relieved, scared, and thinking about my future. When I returned to Peace, I met a group that helped me fix my goal. In this excerpt from Brandon Webb’s The Red Circle: My Life in the Navy SEAL Sniper Corps and How I Trained America’s Deadliest Marksmen, I will tell you about how I returned to the Peace from the Pacific and the encounter that made me decide to become a SEAL.

Tahiti to Hawaii

Tahiti, age 16, and just decided to leave home after a big fight with my father. Home was afloat my family sailboat, “AGIO.” I was off to Hawaii on a boat that needed crew for the journey.

In a way, I was relieved. The tension between us had grown unbearable, and I knew that if we hadn’t parted ways, something really bad would have happened, and it would have caused irreparable harm to both of us, and for sure to our relationship.

Still, I was somewhat in shock at what had happened. I was also scared.

In later years we would reconnect and rebuild our friendship, but for now, my father wanted nothing to do with me. My mom knew there was no reconciling us at that point, but she did what she could to make sure I would be okay. She knew that if I could make my way home, Bill Magee would take me in and look after me. Before I left Tahiti, she helped me get a radio call patched through to Ventura so we could fill him in on my situation. She also helped me secure passage on the Shilo, a 40-foot catamaran headed north for Hilo, Hawaii, a journey of nearly 3,000 miles. My boatmates were a family of three: a couple and their three-year-old boy. The mom’s hands were pretty full, taking care of their infant son, and they had been looking for crew. I stood the midnight shift, which left me plenty of time to think about the future.

In a way, I didn’t blame my father for throwing me off the family boat. It felt like the only possible thing to do. My mom was completely torn up and had pleaded and pleaded with him to relent, yet I think she also realized that there was no going back.

During the day on the Shilo, I was either asleep or occupied with the practical matters of the boat. During the nights, I was alone with my thoughts. Those nights were rough. Rhiannon and I had been a lot less close since we’d both become California teenagers with our own sets of friends—but she was my sister and had been a part of my life since as early as I could remember. Now she was gone. My whole family was gone. I was alone. Those first few nights on that 40-foot cat, I cried myself to sleep.

As I said, I was scared, too, but I told myself I had to get past being scared. When I did, I found that a part of me was excited about whatever lay ahead. I knew my life had hit a major turning point. I’d had experiences most other sixteen-year-olds had not. Still, I was far from an adult. I didn’t even have my driver’s license yet.

I often thought about what had happened with my dad and me back in the harbor off Papeete during those lonely nights. On the one hand, it was a hard lesson in the demands of authority. My dad was right: There’s only one captain on a ship, just like there’s only one person in charge of a mission, department, or any venture. At the same time, he was making the wrong decision. I had learned how to take orders during my time on the Peace. That sense of respect for the chain of command would become a crucial trait later on during my service in the military. Still, as we shall see, there would be quite a few other occasions when I would feel it was my duty to challenge authority, despite my training, when my gut told me the guy in charge was leading us down the wrong path.

That catamaran was fast—way faster than any single-hull boat I’d ever sailed. It took us less than two weeks to arrive at Hilo.

A day before we reached our destination, I came up on deck from my stateroom on the boat’s port side. It was a gorgeous morning. As I stood on deck, something in the hull caught my eye. I bent down to look. Just above the waterline, a swordfish had rammed our boat during the night, spearing himself straight through the hull and breaking off the tip of his snout. That damn fish must have leaped clear out of the water to spear us. I grabbed my camera to take a picture of it. I still have that snapshot. The next day we breezed into the harbor at Hilo with a short length of swordfish beak jammed through our hull.

The image of that swordfish stuck in my mind as firmly as its beak stuck in the Shilo’s flank. What the hell was going on for that fish? What made it leap up out of the water to attack this strange, unknown vessel? Did it know it was going up against something more than ten times larger and heavier than itself?

And what future was I leaping out of the water to go up against?

Years later, I would learn this odd factoid of biology: Although like all fish, it is cold-blooded, the swordfish has special organs in its head that heat the eyes and brain as much as 60°F above ambient temperature, greatly enhancing the animal’s vision and therefore its ability to nail its prey. The falcon or eagle would probably be most people’s choice, but if you were looking for a totem to represent the idea of a sniper—especially a sniper who works in water—the swordfish would not be a bad pick.

Perhaps this had been a vision quest, after all.

Navy SEAL Origins, Brandon Webb: Kicked Out Age 16 and Alone in the South Pacific Ocean. My crazy journey into the SEAL Teams.

Read Next: Navy SEAL Origins, Brandon Webb: Kicked Out Age 16 and Alone in the South Pacific Ocean. My crazy journey into the SEAL Teams.

Once we reached Hilo, I made my way back to the mainland by plane and met with my old boss, Bill Magee. As my mom had known would be the case, Bill was happy to see me and said I could go back to work for him and live on board. “Hey,” he said, “you’ve already got your schoolwork out of the way for the rest of the year. Why don’t you just settle into boat life?”

Years later, I would become a SEAL, here with my teammates from ST3. Recognize anyone?

I can’t even imagine how my life might have turned out if he hadn’t made this kind offer.

Back at the Peace

Soon after I rejoined Captain Bill and the Peace, the Animals showed up for a few days of diving. This time one of them, a younger guy, brought a few friends with him. These guys were rugged. I didn’t know what they did, but you could see that whatever it was, they knew it inside and out. They weren’t muscle-bound showoffs or tough guys with attitude; it was more subtle than that. Being around them, you could just sense that there was something special about the way these guys carried themselves. It felt like they could take on a shark on a bad day and come out smiling.

On our first dive, when these guys saw me, a sixteen-year-old kid diving with no buoyancy compensator and my twin steel 72s, they noticed. “Holy shit,” said one of them, “who is this kid?”

The two of us got to talking. He wanted to know how I’d become a deckhand, and I told him a little bit about my background.

“You know,” he said, “you should check out the seals.”

At least that’s what I thought he said. I had no idea what he was talking about. Seals? Was this guy seriously into seals, like whale-watching and shit? Was he making a joke?

“No,” he said, “not seals—SEALs.”

I still didn’t get it.

“Navy Maritime Special Operations Forces,” he explained. “SEALs. It stands for Sea, Air, and Land. SEALs.”

I’d never heard of them before.

“To become a SEAL,” he added, “you go through the toughest military training in the world.”

Now that got my attention. I didn’t know much about the military, but I had always been fascinated with aviation and wanted to be a pilot when I grew up, maybe even an astronaut. What he was describing intrigued me. I love the water, I thought, and I’m a pretty good diver. That sounds like a hell of a challenge.

Brandon Webb first boat
My first boat, a small Sabot. Here sailing in a race in Mexico which I won, much to the discouragement of the adult racers.

The truth was, I knew I needed a plan, somewhere to go, and something to aim at. When I wasn’t on the dive boat, I would surf and hang out with some guys around the harbor. They were starting to get into crystal meth. I had no interest in it—I would drink beer, and that was the extent of it—but seeing them and where they were heading scared me. I knew that I had to get the hell out of there sooner or later if I wanted to make anything better out of my life.

From that point on, my goal was fixed: I was going to become a Navy SEAL.

I had no idea how hard it would be.