When All Else Fails, Read the Directions

When I get any new gadget I don’t have the patience to read the directions. I have to try to put it together first, knowing that if I get stuck, I can always read the directions. This kind of attitude can be bad for one’s health. It’s a good thing I’m part cat. I must be. I’m sure I’ve used up many of my nine lives.

Before I begin, I have to explain why these photos are WAY worse than usual. I was rummaging around, supposedly doing spring cleaning, when I came across some dusty cartridges of slides and two old projectors. All cleaning stopped right there as I hauled out these memories from over 36 years ago.


My husband and I had talked about these slides some months ago, wondering how we might save them from deteriorating further. I thought it was time to have a look at what was on these slides. I ended up taking photos of the slides with my digital camera as I showed them on the wall. They’re a treasure trove of things we’ve done from so long ago – terrible pictures but they tell many a story.

One set I’d like to share with you today is from our time in Hawaii. We had done a five-month tour of Europe and felt a bit homesick for the Queen Charlotte Islands where we lived at the time, but our summer tans were gone so we decided to detour through Hawaii on our way home. We flew from London to Kauai, touching down briefly in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Honolulu, thinking we’d have no trouble finding a place to stay once we got there. After all, it was October, the off-season.

Wrong! It was Aloha Week. We went through dollar’s worth of dimes at the phone booth (remember those?) but everything was booked solid. A lady working at the small airport suggested Kahili Mountain Park and that’s where we ended up camping.

With a rented car, we toured the island over the next few days. I took pictures with my cheap camera.

“What a beautiful beach,” I said, “and not a soul on it.” I didn’t stop to wonder why.



The waves were a bit more than I thought I could handle so I stayed to do the tourist thing and snapped pictures from the safety of the black (yes, black) sand. My husband is a good swimmer and headed straight for the water. As he got out later, he winced at every step he took.

“Ouch! This sand is sharp.”

“No wonder. It’s like chips of fine volcanic rock.”

Back at the car, I noticed a sign. “Swim at your own risk. Dangerous undertow.” I guess they didn’t think the sharp rocks were worth mentioning in light of the more dangerous undertow. On the hot beach I broke out in a cold sweat, thinking of what might have happened in those strong waves. Should have read the directions. After that we went to a more populated beach.

A fellow tourist told me that the beach pictured below was the one used in the movie (before my time) “Blue Hawaii.”


But apparently it was the beach at Hanauma Bay that was used. As I looked at this photo I found on Wikipedia, taken by ErgoSum88, I could see the gap in the coral in the middle of the bay where I swam when we had returned to Oahu.

800px-Hanauma_Bay by ErgoSum88

I had my mask, snorkel, and flippers on and splashed along happily, admiring the colourful tropical fish and the underwater coral sculptures. Lovely warm water, not too deep; I could probably stand up in most areas I swam. I felt safe. I had read about fire coral and knew better than to  touch the rocks and plants with my bare hands and was careful not to kick them as I floated past. This underwater world was a feast for the eyes. Every few seconds a different shape and colour of fish swam by. I wasn’t sure about the pipe fish that looked like a long skinny snake. He wasn’t bothering me and I wouldn’t bother him. It was time to get back to the beach anyway. My husband was already halfway to shore.

I had swum through a gap in the coral wall to where the water was a bit deeper. I kicked towards the gap and used the momentum of a wave to push me forward. Just about there, I only had to kick a bit more to swim through the gap and be in the shallow sheltered part of the bay. But that same wave that had pushed me forward now pulled me back. I looked out to sea at the point of land and prayed that I wouldn’t end up out there.

With the next wave I took advantage of the push again and got to the middle of the gap. All I had to do was reach for the rocks and hold on, but the coral was unfamiliar to me and several plants covered it. What if that was the fire coral I’d heard so much about. Better not risk it. I’d wait and go shooting through the gap with the next wave. Back I went, pulled by the outgoing wave.

This scenario replayed itself about as often as a cat flips a mouse into the air before the kill. My eyes bugged out a bit when I realized I was getting tired. My husband  a couple of hundred yards away, waving at me to come on in to shore. I could have called to him to come help but there were a lot of people swimming on the safer side of the reef and the thought of calling for help was mortifying to me.

I struggled and kicked harder to try to get through the gap each time the wave brought me close to it. No way I would hold onto the wall to stop from being swept back out. It was a case of degrees of fear – touch what was possibly fire coral or be swept back again. Finally I knew I would have to make a super effort to kick through the gap or suffer the embarrassment of calling for help. I kicked and kicked against the outbound tow until my muscles burned. I managed to get about two feet farther than the time before, but it was enough to escape that deadly pull out to sea.

Back on land, my legs quivered with exhaustion. My husband had no idea of the struggle I had just gone through. I’m sure he would have saved me if I’d called to let him know I needed help, but what’s that saying about pride?

Later that afternoon, as we wandered around the beach, we came to the visitor information sign and stopped to read the “You are here” map. It showed Hanauma Bay  and, clearly marked, were the areas for beginners, intermediate, and expert swimmers. And also marked clearly as a “No go” zone where the undertow problems might catch you, was the place where I had been snorkeling. I was a beginner and had gone into the water with no clue of the risks.

This is what happens when you don’t read the directions first.

PS  After I told my husband about this post and the gap he said he’d had no idea I was in trouble out there, but by the way, that’s where the sharks would wait, by the gap.

“Ha ha,” I said. “Very funny.”

“No. Seriously. They wait by the gap because that’s where the fish would come through.”

(And the odd snorkeler too, apparently. The kind that don’t read directions first.)

PPS  Don’t forget to check out my other blog for more writing-related posts. http://annelisplace.wordpress.com

22 thoughts on “When All Else Fails, Read the Directions

  1. bulldog

    Who needs instructions.??.. directions.??.. suggestions.??.. not me, I like to live dangerously.. and often pay the consequences.. then say I’ll never do that again till the next time and the hard head takes over again..


  2. Sonja Forrester

    I hate to admit it….but I do read instructions/directions before taking on a new gadget or going somewhere that is unfamiliar to me. Call me paranoid, or maybe just cautious. I know it drives my husband crazy, but it has also saved our skin more than once! Glad you made it to shore, Anneli, before you became a snack for those ravenous sharks! Great post and I love the photos. It makes me want to return to Oahu more than ever! It is definitely on my bucket list. Maybe for MY 60th, I will take a 2 or 3 week vacation in Paradise.


    1. wordsfromanneli Post author

      Good for you, Sonja, for reading the directions first. It takes a lot of patience to do that.
      And yes, Hawaii is nice. I hear it’s getting quite expensive now, but I’m sure the beaches are still beautiful.


  3. Lori D

    Boy, you sure do have 9 lives. Didn’t you have a mishap with water when you fell off the boat once too? I’m not a good swimmer, so I likely wouldn’t have even gone far out into the water. I know what you mean about not reading directions with a new gadget though. I wonder if it’s a “woman thing,” because my husband always teases me about not reading directions. But, not only do you not read directions, you have your pride too. 😉


    1. wordsfromanneli Post author

      i had forgotten about the time when we tipped the aluminum boat. Then there was the time I got in trouble in a river, and another time when my girlfriend told a joke as we swam to the raft and I nearly “died laughing.” So with this one it makes it four times. I can have five more close calls and then I’m toast. Water and I don’t get along that well. I swim like a rock with flotation. And yet I love being in the water.
      I don’t think it’s only a woman thing about not reading directions. I know some pretty stubborn macho types who think they can do everything without being told how.
      Thanks for visiting and leaving your comments, Lori.


      1. Lori D

        Oh, yes, the one where you almost “died laughing.” I thought I remembered reading more stories with you and water. It’s good that you don’t let your “rock with flotation” ways stop you from getting in the water. I don’t get in water much because I’m not good at swimming. Although, I think you might be better in water than you think, to be able to escape such an undertow on your own. You’ve had a lot of adventures, but from now on we want you to stay safe. 😉


    2. wordsfromanneli Post author

      I hadn’t really thought about those narrow escapes much. But most of them were in my younger days, and for sure I’ll stay safe. Baths and showers will be the extent of my water adventures for a while. 🙂


  4. Gladys

    Entertaining reading. Yes, I know all about not reading directions but I’ve never had a close call. Will heed your warning.



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