A view atop one of the islands that dot Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam. (Patrick Davies photo)

A view atop one of the islands that dot Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam. (Patrick Davies photo)

COLUMN: Scars serve as a reminder to practise water safety

Near tragedy could have been prevented with life jacket

The weather is warming up and with the unofficial summer season now upon us, we in the media will soon begin to receive press releases from first-responders asking us to remind the public about the importance of wearing a life jacket and water safety in general.

It’s something I’m happy to do, because I know firsthand how quickly a fun day-trip on the water can turn into a life-threatening one.

In summer 2016, I was on a “party cruise” in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

As part of the adventure, guests were given a kayak and allowed to leave the boat to search the nearby islands for caves.

I was last to join the group of kayakers and paddled hard to catch up. Gradually, my kayak started to take on water to the point where it became a concern.

Foolishly, I lifted myself out of the kayak seat to scoop out water. I lost my balance and fell out.

My left ankle got caught in the cockpit. The kayak remained upright while my entire body was submerged in the water, tightening the grip the kayak had on my ankle.

I struggled to free myself, bobbing up for gasps of air between waves. I was fighting for my life for what seemed like an eternity.

As a last ditch effort, I took one deep breath and threw my entire weight deep into the sea as hard as I could, freeing my ankle. I swam with the kayak to the rocky shore where I scooped out some of the water.

Pumping with adrenaline, I felt no pain as I jumped back into kayak. A dozen strokes in, the kayak filled with water again, but this time it was bright red.

EDITORIAL: Water safety always in season

I stopped to calm myself.

As the adrenaline started to fade, I began to feel lightheaded. I decided to ditch the caves and head back to the main boat to examine my cut.

I climbed the ladder to the deck and when I put weight on my ankle, I realized how bad it was.

Four Vietnamese men looked in horror as they watched blood squirt out of the top of my ankle with every heartbeat.

One of the men pulled out loose-leaf tobacco and packed the wound before wrapping it in a towel.

Turns out, that was the only first aid kit on board.

Soon after, a speed boat came and transported me to shore, where I was taken to a “hospital.”

The one-bed army clinic tucked behind a garage door offered something quite different than what I’m use to in terms of cleanliness, but I didn’t care then, nor do I care now.

I trusted them as they handed me pills and stitched me up. I can’t remember if they gave me anesthesia – I do remember the pain – and they didn’t tell me what the pills were, but, again, I didn’t care.

This entire event could have been avoided had I been wearing some sort of personal flotation device. When my ankle was caught, my response could have been more calculated – instead, I reacted out of fear for my life.

Had I drowned that day, I would have become another rather grim statistic.

According to BC Coroners Service data between 2008 and 2016, there were 666 deaths related to drowning.

Of those deaths, 21.8 per cent were related to boating, 16.8 per cent were related to swimming, and 16.5 per cent were related to falls into water.

About 80 per cent of the deceased were men.

I was one of the lucky ones, but my scars – both physical and emotional – remain as a constant reminder to wear a life jacket.

Aaron Hinks is a reporter with the Peace Arch News.


Just Posted

Gerry Vowles (left), Michael Cook, and Dave Sinclair were awarded “Dominion Command Presidential Citations” June 17 in Cloverdale. The rare awards were given out for “exemplary service to the Legion.” (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Three B.C. legionnaires awarded ‘Presidential Citations’

Ceremony took place in Cloverdale June 17

A cache of 89 crabs was discovered during a 2018 compliance inspection at South Surrey’s Elgin Park Marina. (Contributed photo)
$7,500 fine for illegal crab harvest discovered in South Surrey

Laird Goddyn found guilty in Surrey Provincial Court following 2018 investigation

City of Surrey photo
Surrey starts Slow Streets pilot project

Speed limits have been reduced in six Surrey neighbourhood zones for one year to monitor impact on residents

Kaushal Parikh raised $2,840 for COVID-19 relief in India during his almost nine-hour run around the new North Delta Secondary School track on Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Submitted photo)
North Delta ultramarathoner raises over $2,800 for COVID relief in India

Kaushal Parikh ran the 90-km virtual Comrades Marathon around the NDSS track in under nine hours

Preliminary site plan for a proposed 50-space childcare facility at Scott Road and 90th Avenue in North Delta. (Bunt & Associates image)
50-space childcare facility proposed for North Delta

Daycare proposed at Scott Road and 90th Avenue now headed to public hearing

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

Most Read