Out to Sea

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This page last updated on 01/26/2019.

Copyright © 2001-2019 by Russ Meyer


The first time we saw the ocean was in the early 1960’s at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I think we had our swim suits on and floats in hand 10 minutes after Dad found the camping spot and parked the trailer.

We ran to the beach and charged into the waves. There was a thunderstorm coming, and the waves were choppy – which we thought was perfect for riding our floats over. People warned us about the incoming storm, that there had been a Red Tide recently, and that Portuguese Man-of-War’s had been sighted in the immediate area (I had read about this kind of jelly fish in the National Geographic magazine and knew it had really long tentacles and that it could sting). Despite their warnings, we dove through the waves with no thought as to what might be on the other side – a log, remnants of the Red Tide, a jellyfish, a shark.

We spent the week in and out of the water, fairly close to the beach – riding the waves on our floats, shelling, turning brown as walnuts in the sun, catching the little mole crabs that burrowed in the sand then dug out and scuttled back into the water with each ebb and flow of the waves, and watching a pod of dolphins leap through the waves.

Sometime during the week, Lori and I decided to go on an adventure. We took an air mattress (about 18” across) and floated away from shore until the people on the beach looked like ants, all the while ignoring their arm waving and hollering. We decided to see if we could touch bottom, so both of us jumped off the air mattress only to discover that we couldn’t - I’m sure we were thrashing around like dying fish. Soon after, the air mattress began noticeably losing air then folded itself into V-shape with Lori and I sitting in the middle of it with our legs dangling in the water. Lori got stung by jelly fish; I looked around for the Portuguese Man-of-War’s but didn’t see one. During all this thrashing around, the ocean current - influenced by the Coriolis effect and the North Atlantic Gyre - was steadily moving us away from the campground towards Canada. By the time we finally noticed how far away the campground we were, and how flat our air mattress had become, we had no choice but to dog paddle our way back to shore. No one was anywhere close enough to render aid if we needed it.

40-some years later, I look back on this adventure with horrible what-if feelings:  What if our thrashing around had attracted the attention of a shark or some other fish (like barracuda) that could have taken a bite out of us, what if we had floated into a swarm of jellyfish and had been stung dozens of times, what if an undertow had pulled us under, what if our air mattress had gone completely flat so far away from shore and we got tired of trying to keep our heads above water and began to drown…once the movie Jaws came out in 1976, I never felt comfortable about swimming or boating in the ocean again.

Janet Burt

April 24, 2016