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Old 04-01-2007, 12:28   #1
Armchair Bucketeer
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Join Date: Oct 2006
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My simple SAR experiance........

Was having a tidy up on the PC and stumbled across this - I wrote this around Xmas 2005 about 4/5 years after the event, it took me another 6 months to finally post it (elsewhere) - it actually was very cathartic writing and then posting it online (and cheaper than therapy ) - but still gives me the shivers now and again...............and I still haven't watched "Deep Water" !!!

"A longggg story (sorry!) - Probably not really for this forum, but.........just felt it was time to finally try and get it off my chest - in the most coherent manner I could manage.

This post is way longer than I had intended. At the time (about 4/5 years ago) I assumed that it was a story that I would be retelling many times, especially down the pub.

But I now realise that although I told the tale briefly a few times verbally I haven’t done so very much at all, and not the complete story (as far as I am able), and strangely never on the Internet.......although I have nearly told it a few times and then just not done so, including last December when I wrote things out – at the time their was a long thread about something that (as always!) seemed important to many folk at the time – but I have long since forgotten what it was about.

Keeping “Juicy tales” to myself is not really like me – especially as the second half of the story is “classic Dave” down the pub stuff, but to tell this part I would need to get through the first part and until starting to write this I hadn’t realised quite how much this has still stuck with me, especially the feeling of horror at having still scares me.

Now I’ve done me Xmas shopping!

I am only telling this story because it just reinforces that the sea is ultimately in control and one small thing can lead into another and then another. And especially where YOU have a responsibility for someone else and that this DOES change how you react and when the other person is the weaker it could mean the end for both of you…………PLEASE no “discussions” about the rights and wrongs of the obvious stuff on Thailand – I could have lied about it, but it is an ingredient in how things went wrong.

About 4 / 5 years ago I agreed to meet a good mate of mine in the Philippines for a spot of Scuba Diving (in Subic Bay) – this was chosen cos he lived in NZ and it was therefore halfway between us, and it gave me yet another excuse to F#ck off to Thailand for a few beers etc enroute to the PI.

After a couple of days in BKK I decided that I would head off down to Phuket for a few days before flying out to the PI. Mainly for the “Nightlife”, but also to do a diving trip.

To cut a long (er!) story short, I ended up with a Thai lass and suggested that she may want to accompany me on a dive trip I had booked for the day. It was a 50 foot boat taking a trip out to some islands where they had some coral and the promise of maybe some sharks. The trip out was an hour or so each way, with the idea being that you get 2 dives at different spots. The usual tourist dive stuff.

Of course the Thai lass said she would like to come along, although she could not go for the actual dives.

Anyway the first dive went OK, saw some leopard sharks, nothing JAWS like -maybe a metre or two long (or so?!) and after an hour or so it was back onto the dive boat and then a half hour trip to another island for the 2nd dive. At this point I decided against making the 2nd dive because my ears were playing up (I’d had trouble equalising the pressure), maybe a cold, maybe too much booze from the night before – who knows – just that I decided that as I was off to the PI in a couple of days specifically to do some more diving that it would be kinda dumb to f#ck up my ears just for one more dive now. Especially as the diving itself was nothing special.

So the other Tourist folk all went diving. The Thai crew asked whether I wanted to go snorkelling instead. It seemed like a good idea (I wasn’t going to be getting a refund on the 2nd dive!), except that everything is more fun with company. So I asked the Thai lass whether she also wanted to go swimming / snorkelling. She said yes – no problem.

I will explain here that this dive site was near an island, however it was not one with gently sloping sandy beaches, but instead had tall cliffs. The part of the island I could see was about 3 or 4 miles long and just had the sheer cliffs - although the Thai crew said there were coral reefs around. Sort of like the “James Bond” island – but I don’t think it was. The weather was fairly hot and sunny, the sea state was perhaps best described as “a bit lumpy”, although no breaking waves and white horses it still had holes and troughs.

Anyway, because I had been “around the block” a bit in Thailand over the years – especially dealing with the Thai Gals I had (cough) not known for very long, I KNEW that in addition to the Thai (asian?) tendency to say yes to things even when yes is not always the most appropriate answer (a stereotype based on some truth) that the Gals “of short acquaintance” had this tendency in spades – when coupled with a language difficulty, this often led to “hilarious results”.

So I asked her a couple more times whether she was OK to jump in the water. To which the reply was along the lines of “no problem” and with a look of exasperation that said to me “are you slow of understanding?”. I will admit here that my concerns were not purely for her, it was also that I am not actually much of a swimmer (too many ciggies and I have never been very fit) and I did not want to have to worry about her. Although not much of a swimmer I have always been pretty comfortable in the water even if it is “just bobbing along” because I am knackered, as long as I either had a bit of extra buoyancy (in this case a wetsuit) or something that floats is within my range. It does not bother me whether the water is 10 foot deep in a swimming pool or 5 miles deep in the sea – I figure whatever it is I can’t stand up on the bottom!

Anyway, just before we jump in I look at her and ask again “you ok?” to which the reply is the affirmative.

We Jump in.

The boat buggers off (we were about 300 metres from the island) to go and hold station near where the divers will be / keep an eye out for them surfacing.

When I am in the water the holes in the sea seem somewhat bigger than from the dive boat – ie at the bottom of each hole you could not see the bottom of the cliffs – although of course you could not miss a 4 mile long island with sheer cliffs from 300 metres away!

I looked around and saw the Thai lass and knew immediately I was in trouble. She had wide open eyes looking at me, then looking around at the cliffs (they also looked bigger from this angle!) and out at the boat which was now quite a small object in the distance, which disappeared when we were at the bottom of each hole.

I asked “you ok”. She replied “cannot swim”. Basically she was doing doggy paddle on the spot. Badly. Fortunately she had a wetsuit on to provide some buoyancy,

The mind works quickly at moments like this. I knew that I could not support her, even if she did not panic. And I KNEW that if she panicked that she would probably drown.

I told her “no problem” and smiled reassuringly.

I thought about swimming for the boat, but figured it was too far for me, let alone her (I knew she had to stay with me, even if all I could do was stop her panicking). There was also no guarantee that the boat would stay where it was, especially as I was not sure where the Divers would be surfacing. Get it wrong by half a mile and I would be f#cked.

I thought of just staying put and floating around (as originally intended) but could see by the way she was keeping afloat that she was not used to doing this and would soon tire herself out, even without the energy being expended on being scared and stressed. I was also unsure when the boat would come back for us. 30 mins or 45 mins? What if they had a problem with a diver? Or the boat?

That left only the Island.

I tried looking for somewhere that had a rocky ledge or anywhere we could hang onto, but could not make anything out. I also could see that their was a current running around the island, maybe only a knot or two, but it was sweeping us around the island although not towards or away from it.

I reassured her again and indicated that she should swim for the island with me. She looked puzzled and unconvinced – not unreasonably! as she could SEE only the cliffs and no beach! – but did as she was asked.

I dunno whether it was 300 metres of only 200 metres by then – but it was enough time for me to start thinking that their HAD to be either an offshore shelf / reef that we could stand on or at least a ledge and that the current was no bad thing as it was taking us around the island so eventually their must be something! I also knew that 300 Metres was about the limit of my “puff”. I hoped hers went this far as well. She seemed to be using a bit of breast stroke now (at least with her arms), so I figured (and hoped) this had to be an improvement for her energy and “puff” wise.

When we arrived it WAS quite intimidating cos we were now in the shadow of the island, the action of the current and the water movement / swell made up for the lack of apparent wind so that the waters edge was not like at the edge of a swimming pool, rather the sea was surging into the rock face and breaking against the walls and then coming back in a confused state with plenty of spray.

Fortunately I saw a ledge ahead and shouted to her, she also saw it and understood what it meant. So we both put in a max effort to reach it before we were swept past. (actually “drifted past” would be more accurate, but we were both very tired by then)

We managed to grab gold of the ledge and haul ourselves up. I won’t say ashore - because the ledge was maybe a foot deep and a couple of feet wide and an irregular shape sloping downwards, and because the shape of the cliff face at this point was leaning outwards we could not really stand up straight or lean back against it to help with our balance. I should also mention that this ledge was not exactly above sea level more a case of sometimes being above, mostly being at foot level, but sometimes being above the knees, with some force when the swell surged up to the cliff.

To compound things the cliffs were covered in Barnacles / coral type stuff which cut our hands and feet every time we moved or grabbed hold of something to keep our balance. Not seriously slashed, but enough to know about and draw plenty of blood on our hands and feet.

Initial relief was (for me) replaced by a realisation that our position was quite precarious and it would only take one wave to catch us off guard to dislodge us.

At this point I am of course looking for anywhere better we could be on. It was quite a strange feeling really – looking back on it I was maybe in a bit of shock – but whatever, I remember thinking their HAS to be a way out of this, because their ALWAYS has been. It is just a matter of thinking it through logically. It just seemed completely unreal that it was happening to ME at that time. Kinda like watching a TV documentary “re-enactment” where you imagine yourself in the persons position and think about what YOU would have done differently, but KNOW that it isn’t actually happening to you, even though you can see through your “minds eye”.

Anyway, as I said, we were in the shadow of the Island. And being constantly soaked meant we were also getting cold. We were also starting to shiver. (I also realised that I had no ciggies. I could have murdered a fag right then – they help me think). Maybe the initial adrenaline rush had also worn off. I was also feeling very tired both physically and probably also from the stress of worrying about the Thai Lass.

Not only was it a Male protecting Female thing and the stronger protecting weaker, it was also the fact that I had got her into this mess – not only by asking her for the swim itself or even inviting her out for the boat trip, but also to be honest the fact she was with me from the night before was in reality 90% my decision and not entirely due to my boyish good looks, dazzling personality and 12 inch dong. As far as I was concerned this all meant it was up to me to get her out of this mess as it was 100% not of her own making.

I am not sure how long we were balancing on the ledge maybe 5 minutes?, maybe 20? Long enough to make the odd joke and reassure each other that it was going to be OK and agree that the boat would be coming back “soon” and we would just swim out to it. It wasn’t very comfortable and we could not relax as we had to keep an eye on the swell / wave and adjust our balance all the time accordingly, but it wasn’t too bad all things considered.

Then I lost my balance. I so very nearly regained it! In fact I would have if I had grabbed her arm, but it happened slowly enough that I had time to think that she would also be pulled off the ledge. So I slowly fell off.

No big worries, cos all I had to do was swim back a few yards and climb back up.

For some reason (Cold / tiredness and not being very fit) I just could not swim against the current. I realised that it was important for me not to use all my energy up trying to swim against the current. I guess inside of me I also understood that I was in a much worse position strength wise than I had been just 20 minutes ago, and that I did not exactly have a great excess of stamina and physical resources in the water at the best of times.

I tried to tell Thai lady to stay where she was and wait for the boat to come back. (not easy to do when you are tired and bobbing up and down in the middle of nowhere, and speaking only basic Thai and Pidgin English!).

No problem. I would just float away and be picked up later, and besides Thai Lady now had a bit more room on the ledge.

Of course she then also fell in.

By then I had drifted maybe 100 metres away, not along the cliff, but out to sea.

I f#ckin swam towards her like I have never tried to swim before. I also had to try and keep an eye on my bearings (remember that I am still moving up and down through the swell / holes in the sea – and one bit of cliff looks much like another). I stopped a couple of times to try and regain some strength but whenever I did so of course the current drifted me away from her. Despite my best efforts I probably only made half the distance before I was completely and utterly shattered. It was like one of those dreams where when running away from “something” your legs are moving in slow motion for no apparent reason despite your best efforts. I was just completely physically f#cked.

The worst thing was I knew that even though I was not exactly the fittest fella or much of a swimmer and that although I was going against the current that I SHOULD still have been able to get to her (although what I would then have been able to do is another question). It was “just” a result of the previous physical exertion.

But I just wasn’t able to get back to her.

And by this time I realised that I had not actually seen her for what seemed like a long time. 2 minutes? or 10 minutes? – I have no idea.

I thought she must have panicked and was now a gonna. A truly horrible feeling.

I stopped trying. Another truly horrible feeling. And let the current drift me away. It only took me a couple of minutes to drift a few more hundred metres back past where I had started. With me looking in vain for any sign of her.

Then I became aware that the boat was heading towards me. A couple of minutes later it was alongside, with the Thai crew obviously knowing something was wrong. I indicated that they should f#ck off and go and look for the Thai lady and pointed to where she had been and come and pick me up later. They got the idea quickly, but before heading off at full pelt they threw me a buoyancy aid.

It took me a couple of minutes of struggling to put it on. I was now very aware of how tired I was, both physically and mentally and I was also starting to feel the cold and it was great relief to have the additional buoyancy which meant that for the first time in what seemed like hours (of course it was not) that I could relax physically. Of course it also gave me time to think. Trying to replay events and not clearly and not pleasant.

I then realised that I had drifted well away from the island and that the boat was now maybe ½ km away, maybe more and had backed in fairly close to the Island. I couldn’t quite work out what was happening. The brief hope was that they must have found her (otherwise why would they gone in so close?) but this hope was immediately tempered by the knowledge that I had not seen her above the surface for a long time.

As I watched, I realised that in addition to having been taken by the current away from the Island, it had also been carrying me along it’s coast and that the Island was basically circular. Because the coast was all sheer cliffs with no easy reference points this had not been apparent to me before and I had just assumed that whenever I had looked at the Island I was always looking at roughly the same point. Although I had known that the current was previously taking us along the coast, when I became aware that the current was taking me offshore I had just assumed that one direction had simply replaced another. I.e. that instead of drifting East I was now drifting South. It had not occurred to me that I was infact doing both and drifting South–East. I DO know better than this, but it was tiredness and the fact that I could SEE that the Island was the same that gave me my false sense of location.

I quickly realised that this may mean that when I lost sight of Thai Gal that this was because she had managed to get back onto the ledge or at least hang onto it and that it was me who had drifted around a “corner” and out of sight without realising it because I had been unsighted when swimming and when in the troughs. It kinda started making sense, although I am not sure whether this was just a case of me trying to convince myself in order not to have to think about the other possibility any more.

It soon became apparent however that there were 2 persons in the water moving back to the boat. Obviously from this distance and still bobbing up and down (and without my glasses on) it was something that I could not quite believe I was seeing and I had to keep double checking just to make sure that what I saw was 2 people moving of their own accord. Not one person, with a body being hauled towards the boat.

To say I was relieved was an understatement.

I figured that maybe another 5 minutes they would come and pick me up. Of course they didn’t come and get me straight away, they went and picked up the Divers instead! Took them maybe another 20 minutes to get over to me!

What was I doing in the meantime? Well I started thinking about my predicament in more detail. The good news was that I was not about to drown (Buoyancy Aid) and was not about to get hypothermia (Wetsuit). The bad news was that I was starting to get a long way from the Island and I started to think “what if”…….what if they forget where I was? / can’t work out where I am? Or either they or another dive boat or fishing boat just run me down? I thought the odds of any of this were slim, but when bobbing around in the ocean you get a bit of time to think!

I also then became aware of my hands. Particularly the fact they were quite badly lacerated from the cliff face. I don’t know if any of you have had coral cuts before, but they contain some chemical, which means that they do not quickly stop bleeding. The cuts weren’t deep, just lots of them and bleeding steadily.

When you are pissing blood floating around in an ocean it is very hard not to think of sharks (thank-you JAWS and Mr Spielberg!). I then remembered that half an hour away from this area I had actually been diving with sharks! “Only” 1 to 2 metre Leopard sharks – but still sharks.

I was then trying to remember everything I knew about sharks (probably about the same as most people). The first was don’t panic, cos they can sense a fish in distress for how many miles? 1, 2 or was it 50 miles? Don’t panic is easy enough advice to give when you are not bobbing around in an area with sharks, dripping blood. I didn’t panic but I did wonder if they could also “sense” a slightly increased heart rate and a mild degree of concern. Just think happy thoughts.

The blood was a different matter, no amount of positive thinking was going to stop that. I put my hands on my head, and let it soak into my hair. It worked for about 2 minutes before my wet hair stopped being able to contain the blood flow. The downside to this was also when I didn’t occasionally use my hands to keep myself floating stably that I had to use my legs a lot. Thrashing around is also not good. Like a fish in distress? I didn’t know for sure, but it sounded about right. I decided that as the blood was now dripping into the water off my head anyway that I would be better with “just” the blood in the water instead of blood and thrashing my legs around.

There is also not a lot to look at when bobbing around in the ocean. In my case in addition to lots of sea around me and lots of sky above, I also had a boring island and a boat a long way away. However in addition to lots of sea around me, I realised that there was lots of sea below me. And being in the tropics meant that the view beneath the waves was a lot better than in the English Channel. I could not of course see the bottom, but I reckoned I could see a good 20 foot down and maybe to this depth in a 6 foot circle around me. It wasn’t sparkling crystal blue as it was too deep for that, more a case that 20 feet below you could clearly see a black void. I could also clearly see that my feet were bleeding in the same way as my hands. Wisps of blood were just continuously drifting away from my feet. Not only with the current, but down into the Black void.

I tried not to think about how long I had been dropping blood like that, how deep the trail (chum?!) had gone and what was down their. Obviously I failed to not think about it.

I then started thinking “what would I do if a shark appeared”. The answer was probably much the same as yours. Hope he was not hungry.

Would I be able to fight one off? And how? I could MAYBE get one lucky kick in, but should I start the aggression? When Scuba Diving they tell you that sharks are wary of man and that they only ever attack a human by accident or mistake or when somebody annoys one.

However I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer as to “what annoys a shark?”. Whilst hitting me with a stick would probably do the trick most times, on the whole it varies from day to day – for me some days are just better than others, for no apparent reason. Is it the same with sharks? Is lashing out at a Shark first something which warns him off or does he see it as a challenge?

Of course this is also a situation where size is important. I figured I would have a damned good go with just the one leopard shark, at least to make him think I was not worth the aggro, but I figured more than one then I was f#cked. Anything bigger would mean trouble too. Of course I had only seen leopard sharks the once and they didn’t seem to be exactly solitary things.

I decided it was best not to look down on the basis that their was little I could do about the situation, apart from give myself a heart attack (maybe no bad thing in the circumstances?) if I saw a large open mouth appear from below me a couple of seconds before it took my legs off. Best not to look. Think more happy thoughts.

Of course I kept f#cking looking!

2 minutes do not look…….. and then the urge to look and reassure myself that nothing IS there became just too much.

This probably does seem like a lot of thinking for only 20 minutes. It is. But it was a 20 minutes that slowed down as time went by. Anyone who doubts the thoughts that can through a mind in these circumstances is perfectly welcome to f#cking try it.

Of course the boat came back for me soon enough and everyone was happy – especially Thai Gal. Although we were both shivering on the deck, despite the sun and clothes. Cold, shock and relief. No cups of tea aboard!

Of course no idea whether she was still down in Phuket for the Tsunami.............. "

These bits were just a bit of follow up / clarifications:-

"It was very helpful to write it out last December. and reading it again today was a lot easier, but still sends a shiver down me when I think of "what if".

I have quite nonplussed myself with my reaction to this event over the years, I have been in far closer shaves and in far far trickier spots over the years (due to my own actions) which afterwards have never bothered me in the slightest, but I guess the difference here was the responsibility I felt for someone else and sheer helplesness I felt."


"I haven't yet watched "Deep Water" (?) the film about the 2 Divers left in Australia..........

I never kept in contact with her. In addition to the Tsunami, their was other stuff going on in her life which leads me to strongly suspect that the odds are she is not now living in Suburbia with 2.2 kids and a Volvo.......but that is just life out their for far too many.

Actually I have been "tucked up" with a Thai woman for many years whose life story would also make a good movie, a cross between the "God Father", "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Trainspotting"...........and "Mr Bean" - but all that is completely un-boat related! (I will admit that their may have been a bit of "overlap" with the Thai woman in this story - but we were on early days back then ) "
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