Penny Cliff Guest Columnist
January 10, 2014
Before we jumped into the Caribbean, we were taught the sign to make if we got into trouble. I never thought that I’d have to use it.
Oldest son Dave, freshly back from a deployment, gave me a birthday present by paying for a Caribbean cruise for me, his brother Joe, and little sister Nikki. Here we were on our St. Thomas snorkeling trip. I’d snorkeled once before for a short while on my honeymoon in the waters off Antigua in 2000. That was a long time ago.
There we were with three choices: walk down into the pristine Caribbean waters via a ladder, take the boat to the shore, or jump, from what seemed like a huge height into the deep, blue sea. (Looking on the video, I saw that it just seemed a long way down.) For someone that does not swim well, and had not done enough exercising to keep fit the last three months, as well as not being able to see because I found that glasses do not fit into a mask, the choice should have been obvious. Take the boat! Take the boat! But then watching my sons and 11-year-old daughter jump off the edge of the catamaran with flippers and snorkel, changed my mind. Of course, all of them are excellent swimmers, in better shape, and a lot younger. I, on the other hand, can barely do the breast stroke. What was I thinking?
I chose the most daring, and to me, terrifying way. Looking down, I almost wanted to turn around. That was deep water and I don’t like deep water. Never have. Without my life vest blown up (because no one else did), I jumped down into the lukewarm water. I made me way up to the top, and couldn’t breathe. (Probably panic at not being able to touch the bottom.) My oldest son, Dave, told me to blow up my life vest. That would have taken one of my hands which was doing its best to keep me afloat. Not going to happen. “Mom, hold onto me,” he instructed. And he blew it up for me. Nikki, on the other hand, was a fish. Perfectly comfortable; perfectly calm. Even diving into the ocean to get a better look at things. She followed her brothers as we made our way toward a small island for snorkeling. “I can do this; I can do this” I told myself. And, I did. I was proud of myself. I made it to the island.
I wasn’t the best at snorkeling. Sea water kept getting into my breathing tube and I sputtered it from my lungs. I kept on trying, and snorkeled enough to be able to see a few fish, corral and the sandy bottom. After a while, without glasses I couldn’t see that practically everyone had swum back to the catamaran. As a horn bellowed to bring snorkelers in (there were several boats), my daughter said, “It’s time to go.” I asked her how she knew it was our boat. Why? Because she saw them on our boat pull on the horn. I, on the other hand, could not see. With horror, I noticed that the boat was farther away from the shore than I remembered.
“Let’s go Mom!” So off we went. As I kept breathing in salt water, I decided that I’d had it with snorkeling and tried to swim the distance. My daughter was way ahead. “Come on Mom!” she called. With no effort at all, she got back to our boat. By then, the lack of swimming ability and energy hit me. It would take me an hour to reach our boat. And I knew that they did not intend to wait an hour. I was exhausted and couldn’t swim one more stroke. Thank goodness for the life vest. I started waving my arms for help. The people on the closest boat shouted, “Do you need help?” I was so out of breath, it was hard to yell “yes.” At that time, I felt something that seemed big swam past and brush along my left leg. There was no fin, so I don’t think that it was Jaws. The image of something latching onto my leg briefly came into my thoughts; however, I was too tired to panic.
From the closest catamaran, a young man, Brannon from Texas, dove into the water and swam to me. I informed him that I was not a good swimmier, exhausted and couldn’t swim another stroke. Not only was he a great swimmer, and the captain of the closest catamaran, he was kind. “That’s okay there are lots of currents around here,” he told me. He started swimming with me on my back to the boat, but then called in a boat to pull me in. And pull me in I was. Drug by a rope in the water, I made it back to our catamaran. As I was being drug on my back, holding onto this rope, everyone on our catamaran was cheering as I was brought in. But, as I climbed up, they pretended that nothing happened. I love those people! My sons couldn’t resist it, they videoed me being rescued. They were the ones who let the captain of the boat know I was in trouble. But afterwards, the joke was on me for a while. The next time I go snorkeling, if given the choice, I’m taking the boat. And one New Year’s resolution is to practice swimming at the Wellness Center. For the next trip.