Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Reef Too Far ..

I have the pleasure of presenting another guest post by my travelling correspondent ...


A Reef Too Far
In April I made a fool of myself and nearly drowned in the process.
After a glorious four days in Tonga celebrating the wedding of a distant niece into a  Tongan family, the guests had started to depart and we had another week to enjoy the sun and sand before leaving ourselves.

We had had a wonderful time meeting family members and friends of all colours, ages and cultures. When one of the party offered me the use of his snorkel I was delighted and went down to the beach with my wife for a short swim and then a read under the trees. It was warm, with the sea and the sky a matching blue and the reef a long low white wave about 250 yards out. Perfect. I'll swim out about half way and look at the fish and coral. About a quarter of an hour say.
Head down in the water I drifted out watching the sea floor of undulating broken coral. Disappointingly few fish and the coral looked dead. The swimming was easy (too easy as it turned out) and then the coral suddenly rose up close to me and in front the sea was suddenly swarming with fish including some very big black ones. In my head alarm bells rang, I shouldn't be here I thought. I realized why the swimming had been so easy.... I was being swept out on a rip. Way out.
I turned to swim back but through my mask the coral beneath me was moving in the wrong direction. I was swimming towards the shore but the rip was stronger, pulling me backwards, out to sea! The shore was not getting any closer. In fact it was receding! 
On the beach my wife was getting anxious. I had been so long. She went down to the shore line and looked out to sea but could see nothing.
In the sea, swimming was not working, I was still going backwards, so (humiliation) I started to call for help. But I was a long way out and, as far as I could see, no one took much interest so I concentrated on the swimming. What I realised was that I was actually outside the protection of the reef and in the open sea and very exposed. I briefly debated the best means of defence when attacked by a shark.
To save energy I swam on my back looking at the clear blue sky while periodically calling for help. Had to be careful, at one point I found that I had turned round and was swimming back out to sea again.

I was totally out of my depth rising up and up and then down and down with the waves. I came across some coral just below the surface and hoping for a rest, was momentarily able to stand up. Relief! But then a big wave knocked me down. It did however, push me towards the shore  but then a terrible undertow pulled me further out again. I tried to hang onto the coral with my hands but the current was too strong. I started to breathe salt water coming down the snorkel tube. Not good. Spat out the tube. A reasonable swimmer shouldn't drown, should at least be able to float!

When I looked towards the shore I could see people resting on the golden sand under the palm trees and splashing in the sea and having a good time, but no response to my calls.
My wife, however, had heard me and was summoning assistance and I could see someone in a kayak set out from the shore. Was he coming to me though? Or just going for a joyride perhaps? To me I hoped, things were getting to be a bit of a struggle and help would be very welcome.
Thankfully, he was suddenly close, indicating to get onto the back of the kayak. I scrambled on but there were no handholds and I slipped and tumbled over the top headfirst into the sea on the opposite side. The boat drifted away from me and I went under. I surfaced, grabbed it and pulled myself on the back again. I heard a big crack in my chest as I did so, guessed that I'd cracked or broken a rib. He fell off this time but I was able to sit in the kayak seat and he then tried to get on behind. Whoops! back in the sea again. It was getting harder and harder to get on the damn thing but I eventually got back in the seat again and he was telling me what to do from the water. Then the big waves started to hit us as we crossed the reef and we came off again. Getting there though.

We now had to cross the 250 yards of water to the beach. Even that was hard to do. The sea was rougher than I expected and it's a long way but even as it got shallower the sea floor is rough coral, uneven and impossible to stand up on.
When I did eventually get in it seemed that I'd been in the water for hours although it hadn't been that long in fact. My wife was on the beach with the owner of the resort and I was never more pleased to see her. Her welcome wasn't quite as warm as I had expected, but then again, she had had a worrying time!
I later bought my rescuer a drink and heard that only yesterday sharks were seen where I had been. And the ribs? Yes, still painful, must have cracked them and it's put a stop to any swimming or vigorous exercise for a while. My wife, for some reason, seems quite pleased.
David Burke


Cathryn Grant said...

That sounds terrifying, including a rescue in a kayak as I can't think of a more difficult boat to climb aboard.

Slim said...

Rip currents are scarey. You can sometimes tell them by when the temperature of the water changes.

My little Brother once tried to swim out to his sailing boat which was moored off the coast of The Whitsunday Islands. It looked close when he was standing on the beach. He nearly drowned.

(Note: it wasn't actually HIS sailing boat, it was a holiday trip on a 'tall ship').