Samui Wining & Dining
GET A GRIP ON THE RIP
Currents, critters, coral and what to look out for in the water.

Currents, critters, coral and what to look out for in the water.Water. I’ll warrant it’s got a lot to do with why you’ve come to Samui. After all, this is an island, and it’s one that’s surrounded by the bluest of seas, an amazing sea that’s swimmable the whole year round. And it’s mostly safe. Mostly - but not always. And there’s the catch. Water, much like electricity, is something that we think of as relatively safe, but both are ready, willing and able to kill you.

          

Now, most people who come to Samui have memorable holidays – in the best sense of the word. But sometimes things go wrong. Here are the main dangers, and how to avoid them. Rip Currents: Chaweng especially is prone to these from the beginning of October until the beginning of February, but they’re a possibility on any beach anywhere in the world. Changes in tides and winds often cause the phenomenon, and the seafloor itself can play a part. There are 21 known causes. How to spot the danger? You often can’t. The water may even look calm – and the surface is, but just underneath there’s this huge, sucking undertow. Some currents can be recognized by churning water or by a break in wave – look along the crest of the wave and if you see a gap of flat water,

then beware. Even experts admit it’s very, very hard to spot a rip current. They can come seemingly out of nowhere, and they can start off strong or at first be quite weak – and then a minute later ferociously overpowering. They can reach speeds of just under three metres per second. That’s a speed that can’t be matched even by an Olympic runner.

          

“I’m not a fool,” said Eileen, a holidaymaker on Samui, and when I met her, an in-patient at a local hospital. “I was paddling, that’s all. The water wasn’t even up to my knees. And then all of a sudden there was this very strong current. It swept me off my feet.” Eileen almost drowned but was rescued before it was too late. She had to spend some 24 hours in hospital, too weak at first to move, but alright in the end.Currents, critters, coral and what to look out for in the water. It was a terrifying experience, and as she said, she wasn’t even swimming. Rip currents can knock you down with surprising ease. If you’re swept up in one, then don’t fight the current. Most of these currents are quite narrow – like a river in the sea and what you need to do is to swim in a direction along the shore, not towards it. This means you’ll swim out of the current. If you are unable to do so, be aware that the current will simply peter out once it’s away from the shore. This could be some 300 metres though in the most severe cases. If so you should aim to tread water. But better to avoid the situation in the first place. The only good news is that rip currents don’t pull you under the water, as is commonly thought – they just pull you out to sea. Bad enough, though.

          

Rip currents aren’t the only danger ... swimming hazards can be quite general and not fall into any particular category. Between coughs and simply going silent for long periods of time, an acquaintance of mine who’s a 30-something ex-commando and who describes himself – and it’s no idle boast – as “very fit and a very good swimmer” told me a few months ago, how earlier in the day he’d gone swimming in Chaweng, way out to sea. “I often do this. I wouldn’t recommend others to even try, but my military training means I can swim efficiently for an hour or so at a time – it’s never been a problem. Today, I’m lucky to be alive. I swam out – did everything as usual – but just couldn’t get back. There was a current. I couldn’t make headway.” “But you made it in the end?” I asked. “You found the strength?” He said flatly he didn’t. “I was very, very lucky. Someone saw me. I had to be rescued. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here now.”

          

It was an incident that shouldn’t have been one. Don’t swim out too far as it may not be easy to get back to shore. Above all, err on the side of caution, even if you’ve been living here for years.

          

Many resorts, especially in Chaweng, fly red flags when it’s dangerous to go in the water. Ignore them and you may just well end up as an accident statistic. Hopefully not, though. If someone’s in trouble, then it’s the jet-ski operators who tend to hurry to the rescue – they have the fastest craft. Resorts will phone them if they’re notified of someone in trouble at sea. A resort manager told me that even when the red flag goes up at his resort, then trouble is still not far behind. “We have to keep watch; people routinely ignore the warning. Any day we put up a red flag, we know that we’ll be fishing people out of the water later on.”

          

Ponds and waterfalls: If you seek an alternative to the sea, you still need to be careful. Ponds have weeds and weeds can wrap themselves around you; waterfalls have the slipperiest of rocks. Of the two, waterfalls present a greater danger. Don’t jump into unknown waters and be careful even when you think you’ve sussed things out. The rock you needed to avoid when you jumped may, in retrospect, appear to have moved towards you. But no, you just miscalculated. So too do people when they’re just clambering about, standing up on mossy surfaces, or taking photos. By the way, swimming pools can have slippery steps and rapidly deepening bottoms with no warning signs. Most have nobody officially on duty.

          

Multitasking: Eh? Hardly a seaside danger! You’re justified in asking what on earth multi-tasking has to do with aquatic safety. After all, you’re not at the office now, juggling emails, schedules and appointments, and trying not to fall behind. But whatever task you’re niftily doing by the waterside while your child is paddling may be your undoing - even if it’s having a much-earned nap. Take this case: safe spot, mother and father tandem supervisors, other people around – a fool-proof formula, you’d think. But multi-tasking was the fatal flaw here: the little three-year old child drowned because her parents were busy doing other things. But both were keeping an eye out, they said. And those other people just happened not to be around at the crucial time. Be aware too that the sea bed can have dips in it. A child can easily go from safely standing to being underwater in the space of a single step.

          

Blobby, spiky, toothy dangers: The seas here tend to be mercifully free of nasty creatures, but again, alas, it’s not guaranteed. Here’s a round-up of the coastal suspects. Recently jellyfish have been making headlines. Samui isn’t plagued with them as are some Mediterranean spots, but you should be aware that a jellyfish sting isn’t so uncommon. Usually it’s just very, very painful. Alas, though, not all jellyfish are the same.Currents, critters, coral and what to look out for in the water. The infamous box jellyfish has been making appearances on our shores. Sadly there was even a fatality on Koh Phan-Ngan very recently, caused by the dreaded box.

          

To treat jellyfish stings you may have to go to hospital, but first aid can greatly help. Pour vinegar on the wound or pee on it – the acid will help take away the pain, whereas water won’t. Take a bottle of vinegar with you to the beach and you’ll be prepared. Check the shoreline for signs of washed up jellyfish, and keep an eye out for them when swimming. A few resorts, like Poppies Samui, have vinegar stations – clearly marked poles containing big bottles of vinegar.

          

Beware of coral cuts that are like razor slashes, stepping on sea anemones and being bitten by the few species of venomous fish here, such as the stonefish. The bite of a fish might not seem like much, and the tiny, tiny puncture marks might not seem that serious – but the pain caused can require intravenous morphine over 24 hours.

          

Other dangerous presences in the water turn out to be ... humans. While you’re swimming carefully in the water, watch out for jet-skis. There are no designated zones. All the driver can see of you is your head. The jet-ski operators have eagle eyes, but the holidaymakers who’re renting jet-skis may be totally new to them. When a jet-ski collides with you, it’s basically the aquatic version of being run over. Fortunately rare on Samui.

          

Okay, so this was an article about safety, so we’ve looked at all the worst-case scenarios and covered just about everything nasty that can cause you grief while on holiday. Samui isn’t a vortex of shark-infested waters with typhoons, maelstroms and whirlpools. Neither are there vast armadas of jellyfish with a personal vendetta against you. And you won’t be challenged every ten seconds by a new catastrophe in the making. Maritime mayhem, it isn’t. There’s no need to be alarmed, just be safety conscious.

          

Phew! So you’ve had your first dip in the water and you’re up to speed on the principal dangers. Now you go up the beach, wisely seeking shade ‘cos you’re aware of the power of the sun. So now you can lie down and just relax again in the shade of that inviting coconut tree.

          

And check out those coconuts! Each is as big as a bowling ball... and as heavy too! Now, are they ripe enough to be harvested? Or will they suddenly fall?

          

 Dimitri Waring


 


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