‘Dammit! They think I’m waving at them!’ – Cupcake Woman, adjacent bay to Black Tip Resort, Koh Tao, Thailand

Today was the day. I was definitely going to experience my first taste of swimming with sharks in open water. After the disappointment of the previous days’ snorkelling trip, where bad weather prevented us from diving in marine hotspots with guaranteed sightings, I was determined to follow up on some advice given to us by a fellow traveller a few days previously.

According to our oracle, the bay next to our resort, a mere 25-minute snorkel as the , er, crow flies, was teeming with sprightly reef sharks and barracuda, as long as we were patient and carefully trod water for a short time.

I should have heeded the first warning sign given.

Actually. Before I go on, I feel I should explain why swimming with one of the most successful predators on this planet is so dear to me. Since the age of six, I have fed my brain with general knowledge about sharks in a most voracious manner. I could rattle off the Latin names of most of the big-hitters to you, the reader, and if you gave me a couple of minutes, I would more than likely remember some of the D-listers too. Yes, I’ve just categorized sharks into their popularity. That’s what happens when you ‘read’ your other half’s discarded Heat magazines.

From largest down, Whale Sharks measure an average of 8-12 meters, concluding with Cookie-cutter Sharks, which measure up to 50cms. If you were to question me on what the largest shark in recorded history was, I would reply that it was a Whale Shark, measuring 12.65 meters (I haven’t checked that statistic in a few years, so I may have just mugged myself off there). The heaviest Great White was over 3,000lbs and in all there are around 360 species of shark and counting, with a measly 30 of these considered ‘dangerous’ to man.

These species have been around for 400 million years, with very little change in their evolution. That’s about 399,900,000 years before early, Neanderthalic Man first grunted and bludgeoned its way around the planet, if memory serves. Their only NATURAL predators are Orca’s and bigger sharks. Have a think about that the next time you want to order sharks fin soup at the local oriental…

Hopefully I’ve painted a small picture of just how enthused I am by these creatures. Some may find it geeky, but I’d rather feed my brain with fact, figures and general knowledge about our planet and the universe around us than worry about the performances and voting prowess of someone-or-other in some ambiguous, moron-inducing reality ‘television’ programme….leave it there Ram, leave it there….

Anyway…

The first sign that the day’s events would take a turn for the worse was when, after much brute force and ignorance from my part, I managed to break the clasp connecting my snorkel to my mask.

That’s it. It wasn’t meant to be. God despises me and I want to go home.

Stannie, as she does so patiently well, managed to placate the thunderstorm brewing in my cranium. That was until her gear, which she had unselfishly offered to me and to which I had graciously accepted after protestation of intense magnitude (I snatched it off her) broke. In exactly the same manner as mine had previously.

That’s it. It wasn’t meant to be. God despises me and I want to go home.

After a brief demonstration of how the snorkels could still operate sans clasps, and gentle forehead stroking coupled with soothing, ‘Poor little bunny’s, we travelled the short distance to beachside. There was a strong breeze blowing along with the clouds causing an overcast haze in the sky. In spite of this the sea current ebbed and flowed in a calm fashion, which surely meant near-perfect visibility.

I’d already resigned myself to lying on the beach, grumbling and spending the hours reading a bit of Stephen Fry (excellent, by the way), when Stannie called out about 20 meters from shore.

‘The visibility is better when you get further out’.

Bless her; she wasn’t going to let me give up on my dream. Although…Hang on…Technically. Technically. The events that conspired are mainly her fault…Just saying….

My dilemma now was whether to bask in the solace of my grumpiness all day, or make the final push and instigate an exclusive encounter with the elusive sharks. We snorkelled up to the edge of our bay. The water was a lot deeper than I expected and looking to our left, all we could see was a murky, blue expanse.

I could make out the coral formations on the sea bed. There was little other sea life but I took this as a good sign that sharks were in the area. Or it might’ve been because of the gargantuan, chugging engine running from the dive boat ahead of us.

Oh for fu….

As we got closer to our destination, we stopped at a large rock breaking the surface. I was pretty much dead inside by now, petulantly grumbling under my breath about how this was everyone else’s fault but my own. With the dive boat engine still bellowing like a Jason Newstead bass line, we decided to swim to the rocky shore of the bay to decide what to do next.

Climbing onto the jagged rocks, I realised we’d swam quite a distance. Therefore, I deduced that we should carry on to the main area of the bay via the unwelcoming terrain.

‘It’ll be quicker…’

No sooner had I taken my first tentative steps, disaster struck. I went from a vertical position to crashing into the rocks within a second. A further second later I came to my senses and surveyed the damage. Head. Check. Arms. Check. Chest/midriff/back area. Check. Right leg. Check. Left leg. Ah…I couldn’t see my left foot, which was submerged under water in-between two rocks, out of sight.

Before I brought my foot out from its enforced hiding place, I think we both realised something wasn’t right. Stannie was transfixed; waiting for the inevitable as I quickly raised my foot out of the water. I felt the adrenaline rush through my body and wave of nausea overcame me as I surveyed the damage. My big toe was a bloody, mangled mess and my second toe was bent at an angle that no part of the body should ever be succumbed to. Stannie gasped.

‘Oh my god. Oh my god!’

‘It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok….’

As I clambered to a seated position, I tried to remain calm but I could feel my body trembling. I must have gone into shock as I couldn’t feel any pain.

‘I just need…I just need…’ I had no idea what I needed.

‘Can you swim or should I call for help?’

Male bravado and stubbornness struggled to get the better of me but thankfully I succumbed to common sense.

‘I think you should call for help’

Stannie instantly sprang into action. Gracefully negotiating the rocks like a young Lara Croft,, she belied the treacherousness of the terrain and paid no heed to the deep cuts forming on her own feet. There was nothing out to sea as she surveyed the horizon. This wasn’t good.

‘Help! Help!’

Like a scene cut straight from a feature film, a fishing boat appeared in the distance. Stannie frantically waved her arms, to which the fisherman delightedly waved back.

‘Dammit! They think I’m saying hello!’ Thai people really are very friendly.

Finally, the fisherman realised the gravity of the situation and powered over. I was in the boat in no time thanks to their strength and guile and we were given an emergency lift to our resort. As I quite sickeningly realise now, I was trying to force my ‘dislocated’ bone back into place vigorously during the ride.

Once at the resort, we got into the back of a 4×4 for the trip to the island’s medical centre. As Stan has mentioned in a previous blog, this trip is very bumpy and devoid of what we would call, ‘roads’, in the UK. Luckily Stannie got her glasses out to guide me on any upcoming hazards ahead, duly dropping her spectacles case on my left toes. I persevered on the ride to force my mutated digit back into place.

At the medical centre, I lay down on the bed so the nurse could inspect the damage. After a quick x-ray they confirmed the injuries. A broken toe and a big toenail that was MIA. Upon hearing the news, the tears welled up, followed by nausea and hyperventilation. Luckily, I managed to placate Stannie and she went for a sit-down. What followed I will never forget. PURE IODINE SOLUTION ON EXPOSED FLESH AND NERVES. Words fail me…

Now, I must explain, whilst the nurses at the centre were adept at diagnoses they were no doctors. This might explain the confused looks on how to strap up my broken toe and the eventual plaster cast up to my knee, my foot at a 45 degree downward angle, rendering any attempt at a standing position unaided futile.

‘I think I might need crutches’

‘Ah yeh. Of cor Sir. 1500 baht’ (apologies for the casual racism)

‘Brilliant’. God bless the National Health Service.

After her dad, Paul, had very kindly spoken to our insurers and relayed relevant information between the two parties, Stannie signed the relevant documents and settled the costs (the first of many signings, handovers, phone calls and general insurance related annoyances that she would have to endure over the coming weeks. Wonder Woman). We went back to the resort, managed to grab a bite to eat and then made the journey up to our bungalow.

The route to our bungalow was easy enough with two functioning appendages. Some steps, then a little walk through untouched forest terrain, concluding with a steep set of steps up to our stilted bungalow. A couple of minutes it normally took. Half an hour later, as I scaled the last step onto our patio sat on my buttocks, I did what any hardened, alpha-male would do. I burst into tears.

Stoopid sharks. Should be hunted to extinction….

S+R xxx