by Raymond Syms
‘Java’ (July August Vacation) is almost over. Have you planned a beach run yet? If not, then be ever aware when you hit the water. There’s something in the water that can take your life—and I’m not talking here about ‘Jaws’.
They’re called rip currents and occur on beaches along our east and north coasts.
“Rip currents, powerful seaward flowing currents which you may see very near to the shoreline and which can easily pull unsuspecting bathers quickly out to sea, are dangerous,” warns the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) in a Trinidad Guardian November 2002 article on the tntisland.com website.
Rip currents are a natural phenomenon. According to a Trinidad Express February 2007 article: “A rip current is a natural drainage system which the sea creates. The sea’s bed is uneven with many high and low spots and because of a greater volume of water coming to shore by rough seas this time of year and flowing back out in a gush the seaward pull is increased.
“The increased volume of water chooses a specific path to flow back into the sea, creating a ‘river’. The water going back out to the sea pushing against the water coming to shore creates the turbulence which is called a rip current, lifeguards say.”
If you’re caught in a rip current, don’t panic and try to swim directly to the shore. You will tire yourself out which can possibly lead to death by drowning. Rip currents are 10–15 feet wide, so experts suggest swimming parallel to the shore.
“If someone else is caught in a current, floatable items such as cooler covers, boogie boards and rope can be thrown to the person to lend assistance,” suggest the IMA.
So be aware on the beach: look out for areas where the waves aren’t breaking, and if you’re in the water, check for unstable and loose, moving sand where there is turbulence. If you’re no swimmer, don’t venture out too far. Stay in knee height water. If you’re a comfortable swimmer, there’s a suggestion to bathe in waist high water but…
My first (hopefully last) experience
Panic! My son, Johan looks at me in absolute horror. His big brother, Christopher and I look at each other, not fully comprehending what was happening. We’re in waist high water down Blanchisseuse one Friday midday. We feel this unseen force pulling us out to sea.
I shout to Chris to “Go!”.
He immediately dives beneath a wave and swims like mad for safety. I feel myself being lifted off my feet with increasing force. Johan, who was swimming beyond Chris and me (breaking a rule), tries swimming to me, and I turn to swim to him. He is metres off to my left above me. The waves and the winds are so powerful. Neither of us can get to each other.
“Daddy, help me! Daddy I can’t swim to you!”
I pray in my mind to Jesus, putting my son and me in God’s hands. A calmness overcomes me and a thought comes: relax and float. I shout to Johan over and over, “Relax! Float on your back!” It was what we had learnt to do at the Arima swim school more than five years ago.
I close my eyes and just continue shouting. But there’s no response. I turn over to get my bearing, and realise a wave is heading to the shore and I go in with it. Two waves later I’m walking again.
On the shore, Chris is in a state. So are my co-workers. I am not wearing my glasses so I cannot see in the distance that the current is taking Johan parallel to shore. But Chris and Mary, a co-worker, see him and point me in the direction Johan is going.
I run down the beach in the water and spot Johan’s head bobbing in the water. I run until I am parallel with him and start shouting when a wave is coming in to swim with the wave. He hears and follows my instructions.
In two waves he is running into my hands saying three times, “Thank you Daddy. I love you Daddy!”
But the adrenalin is pumping and he’s tired from treading and swimming. He’s taken to the health clinic for oxygen (beneath his finger nails looked blue) and the nurse advises that I take him IMMEDIATELY to Mt Hope Children’s Hospital. I’ve already informed my wife Tricia of the incident and she leaves her Chaguanas office immediately.
“Make sure he doesn’t sleep” on the hour-plus drive, says the nurse—people who have a “near-drowning” experience sometimes fall asleep and their heart stops. Johan doesn’t sleep on the way but both he and Chris are quiet.
“Do you all believe in your guardian angels?”
At Mt Hope, Johan is processed and kept for observation for six hours. During his time there, visited by concerned relatives, he quietly reminds his brother that he’s actually Aquaman.
My advice to everyone: learn to swim, even just the basics. It can save your life and a loved one.