Today is my birthday. I decided long ago that I would always find a way to spend my birthday surrounded by people, like the day I was born. Every day is a blessing, everyday is special and every year I’m thankful and proud of my accomplishments up to that point. This year, things are a little different. I have a story to share, so here it goes.
My friends, Michele, Isabel, Wendy and I planned to go snorkeling off of one of the prettiest parks in Guantanamo Bay. Phillips Dive Park is aptly named because it is the perfect setting for diving and snorkeling expeditions. You are in 8-10 feet of clear water the moment you step in. The view under water is AMAZING! There are so many pretty corals, fish in a variety colors (I’m sure I’ve seen Nemo and Dori on several occasions), and all the sea life, it is just breath taking. It’s like looking into a very big salt water fish tank. I can’t begin to describe, you really have to experience it for yourself.
The plan was to go out, have fun, come back in, eat, rehydrate, rest and go home! When Isabel, Michelle and I entered the water we joined Wendy and her family there as well. The four had already been in the water so they went back to shore. However, the adventure for Isabel, Michelle and me was just beginning.
We suddenly realized that our efforts to swim to the pier or anywhere were taking us nowhere. I could not believe that we were being pull towards the ocean, this could not be happening, we’re in the bay and in a rip tide! Yes I felt a panic button being pushed but I had to be sure. I put my snorkel gear back on, attempted to swim with my face in the water and all I could see were water bubbles going past me. The coral just beneath me was still there despite my efforts to swim away from it. I looked at a big rock to my right and it was now in front of me, my friends were in front of me and I felt like I was being pulled directly into the sea.
Did I panic? Yes. I did. I admit it. I was attempting to swim against a current and moving further and further away from my target. I think we all felt a little panic at different times as we realized that we were becoming fatigued and going nowhere but out to sea. Isabel was giving the distress signal to our friends on the pier but we could not be sure they could even see us. We yelled for help and at the same time I was thinking "they can’t hear us."
Michelle and Isabel helped me regain my composure and we realized we needed to stop fighting the current and swim in a different direction, preferably, parallel to the shoreline. We made a hard right towards the coral reefs and swam to a large coral rock that was poking out of the water, just past the cave. Here we climbed and hoped that our friends who managed to make it to shore had not forgotten about us. They did not. We turned back and realized they were standing above us and they had already called for help. Yay!
Once on “the rock” we tried to assess what just happened. We weren’t sure if we should laugh or cry, be upset or embarrassed. We couldn’t possibly be the only ones who had experienced this situation. Surely the boats will come soon and rescue us. Every 10-12 minutes the tide would rise and crash into the rocks making us even more nervous. For a brief moment we thought “if the tides keep rising, there wont be much left to stand on.” However, I noticed (or maybe remembered from somewhere) that there was a time interval and we would be rescued soon enough. We decided we needed to stay calm and laughter is a great way to relieve anxiety. We told some jokes, laughed at each other, sang some songs and made up words to others songs. Our friends on land even managed to sing Happy Birthday to me AND they were taking pictures, for training and historical purposes of course.
The rescue boats could not come close enough to get us off the rock and we were not about to start swimming towards them. Those tides were not looking very friendly. Now we could see four boats in the water trying to figure out how they could get closer to us, a fire truck on land and an ambulance waiting for our arrival at Ferry Landing. Finally, another boat managed to come a little closer. A rescue crew member swam part way with a line and we swam to him. One by one we were pulled out of the water and into the rescue boat. One hour later, safe at last. On the ride back to Ferry Landing we asked the crew if they had to do this a lot to which one of the replied “no, actually in the three years I’ve been here, this is my first rescue.” OK so, not sure how to feel about that now.
The rescue team agreed that the current was strong and that we did the right thing to swim parallel to shore and away from the rip current. They were great, made us feel comfortable and provided us with water and a quick medical screening, just to be safe.
This is how I spent my morning on my 43rd birthday. Apparently, the event was filmed and I know we have pictures which I will share when we get them.