Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Friday, February 21, 2003

Reader recalls getting
‘toed’ at Hanauma

After my recent column about the dangers of swimming outside Hanauma Bay's reef on rough days, my mother-in-law e-mailed me about the last time she went swimming there with her son Craig.

"We went outside the reef and did some great snorkeling, and then it was time to swim back. The current slowed me down, and I was beginning to stroke very hard. Then I spied a pinkie ahead, churning at great speed. Did Craig not have flippers on, or was it someone else? I grabbed the pinkie and got towed in. Great fun."

And? She neglected to tell me whose pinkie she latched onto. Craig finished the story that evening: It was he who had "toed" his mother in.

The same column prompted another reader to e-mail an experience she had in Malaysia.

This reader, an experienced surfer, came in from bodysurfing a shorebreak there and met several vacationers from Singapore. "I was obviously a grandmother, and because of this, these nonswimmers decided the ocean must be safe," she wrote. They climbed onto several inner tubes and set off.

The woman returned to her hut and soon heard frantic screams. She rushed out and saw the group had gotten caught in a rip current and were drifting seaward.

The woman stood on the beach, she wrote, enjoying the scene.

What? I thought. How could anyone enjoy such a calamity? Then I read on. The woman's tall male friend sighed, strode into the ocean fully dressed and easily towed the people-filled inner tubes back to shore.

No one adrift, it turned out, had tried putting a foot down in this quite shallow water.

Not all drifting-away stories, of course, are amusing. Last weekend, I visited Maui and heard talk of eight scuba divers missing from Molokini. I hoped it was a rumor.

The next day, however, during a boat trip to Molokini, another passenger said to our captain, "Nice job on finding those divers."

The incident was real. Saturday morning, eight divers got carried away by strong currents, and in the 45-plus-knot wind, the ocean white with waves and spray, their captain lost sight of them.

The skills and teamwork of Hawaii's rescue crews and marine community, however, turned the worst day of these divers' lives into their best. The Coast Guard, Maui Fire Department and a host of commercial and private boaters worked together with helicopters and vessels and found the exhausted but uninjured divers eight miles from Molokini.

And they did it all without pigeons.

This e-mail came last week: "Answer me this: ... Can pigeons swim or float on water? (serious question)." I soon realized that this person was referring to a previous column (June 22, 2001) about the Coast Guard using pigeons for search and rescue missions.

I also realized I didn't know the answer. I wrote to pigeon admirer Alvin Wong, the reader who told me about search pigeons in the first place. Alvin replied that, no, pigeons don't float or swim. "Pigeons will only go into water if they can touch the bottom."

On a final e-mail note, lots of people told me they liked my column on humpback whale songs. They also wanted to know the identity of the rock star with a thousand-plus notches on his belt. OK, it's Gene Simmons, lead singer of the group Kiss.

Marine science writer Susan Scott can be reached at

E-mail to City Desk

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