It wouldn’t be unusual for Richard to spend a few weeks in Jordan, then go to Egypt and then fly 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 imagined that she would meet a diving instructor or maybe someone in the travel world with a similar nomadic lifestyle. After all, she was focused on her mission to empower women in the male-dominated diving industry.
Indeed, nothing could derail her — not even the pandemic — but Richard was wrong on one thing. The love of her life wouldn’t be an instructor she met on a liveaboard in Raja Ampat or a resort on Socorro Island. It would be about a passionate asparagus farmer from the south west of England.
Outside 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 schedule full of holiday events. One morning she took the train to London for the day to reconnect with friends she had met while living in Hong Kong a few years earlier.
“Normally I never go to London… never,” Richard recalls. “That was the first time in almost absolute years.”
After a day out with her friends, Richard had to return to Hastings at 9pm, about 90 minutes south east by train, for a holiday party
But when she got to the metro station, it was closed for repair. She rushed to catch an Uber to London Bridge station in central London in hopes of catching the next train, but missed it due to heavy traffic.
Richard sat at the station for about an hour. By this time, her phone’s battery was dead and she couldn’t update her friends in Hastings.
“Finally I got on the train, leaving London, and I’m so excited to go to the party. But then, about half an hour later, an announcement says the train has to stop because it’s broken and everyone gotta get out. And I was like, come on…”
Her long evening of trouble with public transport continued — and she had to go 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.
“Since my phone went dead, I had no way of enjoying myself on the train,” she recalls. “I just said to myself, ‘What would you do if you were on a train in another country? You’d just talk to someone.'”
And then Joel Gostling walked on and sat down.
Love on track
Sarah Richard traveled non-stop to organize dive trips and events for the pandemic.
“When Joel got on the train, I was like… ‘Hello.'”
The couple clicked right away and chatted to Hastings the entire ride. He made a strong first impression — “a real English guy” who was level-headed and easy to talk to, Richard says.
“He had his own asparagus field, which is unusual, and loves just being outside. I immediately got the impression that he’s not materialistic,” she recalls, adding that he didn’t make her nomadic lifestyle overly romantic.
“Joel thought all my travels and the places I’ve been cool, but he also thought the life he had built for himself with his farm was cool — and it is.”
Gostling grew up in a village called Dalwood in the South West of England in Devon, where his primary school had 30 children, and he felt at home on a farm, in the fields or hanging out in a local pub.
After working at a celebrated farm restaurant and cooking school, River Cottage in Devon, in 2015 Gostling turned one of his parents’ fields into an asparagus farm and sold the hand-picked asparagus to restaurants in the region.
Towards the end of the trip, Gostling asked Richard for her number, but she had no idea what it was. She’d just swapped a Mexican SIM card for a UK number, and her phone’s battery was dead.
“I really didn’t know my number but wanted him to reach me. So I said, ‘This is going to sound selfish, but if you google ‘Sarah Richard’ you can find me on Instagram and find my email.'”
Gosling was determined to contact her.
“She was interesting, beautiful, mysterious, captivating. I was surprised by how well we got along right away and I knew I couldn’t leave the train without asking to see her again,” he recalls.
Richard eventually returned to Hastings, 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 dwell on it. After all, Richard had a full calendar ahead of him, with plans to fly back and forth between Mexico and the Middle East for diving trips.
Long Distance Romance
Gostling didn’t hesitate to look up Richard online. An email later, their relationship began to take shape.
They began to keep in touch over long distances, with Richard making pit stops in the UK for two to three weeks between trips.
“I was pretty focused on staying on my job. I was like, ‘If you want to come along, come along for the ride, but I’m not going to get off,'” she says. “My travel schedule was really intense. And he knew right away that that was my lifestyle. And that’s kind of what it always would be.”
The dynamics worked well for them. They both focused on what they were most passionate about while appreciating their time together. In 2019, Richard and Gostling moved in together, which only deepened their bond.
“I realized that having someone who is the opposite of me is actually what I wanted. So I can still do my thing and then come back and be happy to have something else to talk about,” says Richard.
“The only thing that really changed was that he was there to pick me up from the airport. It was so cute because every time he had a different sign with a different phrase on it.”
Gostling didn’t mind either, and all the while he came up with 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 one year after they met on the train, Gostling orchestrated a surprising proposal.
Richard’s best friend, Lucy, invited her to see the musical “Lion King” in London.
“On the same [route]same platform, Joel got off the train and got on one knee and proposed to me.”
All the while, Gostling says it was utterly “nervous-wrenching.” It took a lot of time and effort to coordinate — “I started planning on October 6 and then proposed December 15. That’s how long it took!”
After they got engaged, Richard continued to travel while Gostling focused on his farm. In early 2020, Richard focused her ambitions on Jordan, where she hoped to establish a Middle East branch of Girls that Scuba.
The couple moved to Jordan and started building their lives there. Gosling planned to work remotely and return to England during the harvest season. They were there just four days before the country was shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The British embassy arranged flights and we ended up getting a flight home, but it was about £3,000 (about $3,920),” Richard laments.
It also meant that Richard could no longer carry out her diving trips.
“When the travel stopped completely, most of my income was gone because it came from taking people on trips and events. So Joel had no income [because he worked in the restaurant industry]† I had no income. It was horrible.”
The ultimate test
Together with chef Andy Tyrell, Joel Gostling opened Soulshine in May 2021.
With no apartment or income, they had to move in with Gostling’s parents in Devon.
For Gostling, the move was a blessing in disguise. Chef Andy Tyrell, with whom Joel had worked at River Cottage, invited Joel to set up a pop-up kitchen with him.
The pair called it Goose & Badger, and although they had to navigate lockdowns several times, they established a following for their multi-course meals and delicious burgers.
As Richard’s nomadic life came to an abrupt halt, she found dive sites along the coast of England and continued to build her online community.
“It was such a chance meeting, and although there have been hard times, we are both so safe in the knowledge that we are with the person we should be with. It just makes everything so much better, even in these hard times .” times,” she says.
Gosling couldn’t agree more. “Even after spending all this time together, I still like her,” he jokes. “It was a really good test – we found we could pass anything.”
‘Everything else is a bonus’
The pair, seen here in Gostling’s asparagus field, hosted a small outdoor ceremony for 12, then a larger party in September 2021.
Initially, the couple hoped to hold a wedding for 200 in Gostling’s parents’ garden in June 2020, but due to the pandemic, they have scrapped that plan.
Instead, they had a small outdoor ceremony for 12 people and postponed a bigger party until September 2021. “Actually, we had to get married twice and have two parties – it turned out so much fun!” says Richard, now going through Sarah Gostling.
After the wedding in September, Richard picked up where she left off and has been flying around the world ever since. “It’s like riding a bike. It feels so natural to travel again,” she says.
“It was also great to see other people go back out into the ocean and realize that this is what connects us [scuba diving] community, and it’s just beautiful.”
The couple also took a belated honeymoon, spending three weeks in Lapland, Finland, where Richard’s brother and his family live, and Turkey.
The newlyweds stayed in an igloo with a sauna, rode a reindeer pulled sleigh and went snowboarding for the first time. They traded the snowy landscapes for sunshine and fine dining in Istanbul, then concluded the honeymoon in magical Cappadocia between cone-like rock formations and cave hotels.
“Instead of wedding gifts, we had a honeymoon fund that all of our friends and family contributed to, so it’s really special that we went to these places because of what our friends and family gave us,” says Richard.
Looking back, Richard says she feels like they are on the “other side” of the pandemic. They’ve found a house to rent, Gostling’s restaurant is thriving and Richard’s diving community is experiencing a new lease of life.
So far this year Richard has already organized two Girls that Scuba trips – the first in the Galapagos, followed by another in the Red Sea.
“In retrospect, it’s only been three years. But in those three years we managed to get through a global pandemic, he lost his job, I lost all my income, we had to move back in with his parents when we got into were thirty.” says Richard.
“We’ve been through a lot. It just makes us think we just need each other, and that’s all. Everything else is a bonus.”