A Day at the Beach . . . I Mean Reef!

By Donna M. Magnotta

As we walked on the white powdery sand of Trunks Beach of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, I smiled thinking of a different kind of white powder we left behind – snow. A friend from home recommended this beach, describing it as a quiet oasis that didn’t attract large crowds.

I chose a shady spot near the lifeguard hut, drinking in the view of swimmers and snorkelers in turquoise water and opened my rented beach chair. Even the condition of the chair, rusty and stained with a slight musty odor, didn’t dampen my feeling of euphoria. Here we were, my husband and I, without kids in this peaceful, idyllic place, having left behind a sleet filled, snowy, New York. I sighed deeply as I reached for my romance novel, ready to enjoy the afternoon. Suddenly, an authoritative voice, amplified by a bullhorn, startled me.

“Get off the reef! You cannot stand on the reef! You are in a protected area. When you are snorkeling, you must be swimming at all times. If you need help, let me know and I will come get you!”

A female lifeguard was standing on her perch of the lifeguard hut. She wore a red, one piece swimsuit. Her calves were the size of Yule logs. I had no doubt she could rescue anyone from drowning. I supposed she could also single-handedly harpoon a whale, if necessary. My husband and I exchanged glances and then turned our attention to the offending snorkeler. He climbed off the reef and resumed snorkeling. The lifeguard stood, eyes fixed on him, with her bullhorn at the ready, but after a few minutes, laid it down beside her.

Back to my book. I managed to read a whole page. And then…

“Get off the reef! If you are standing on a rock, you are on the reef! You are in a protected area. You must be swimming the entire time you are snorkeling. If you need help…”

“Looks like you picked the perfect spot for our day at the beach,” said my husband.What I saw next made my heart sink; a huge group of sunbathers headed our way. As they approached, I noticed their fins and masks – more snorkelers!

“Let’s take a walk,” he suggested. We walked past the lifeguard hut to the far end of the beach where trees grew along the perimeter. We stopped so I could take a picture of my husband under one of them.

“Don’t lean against it,” I warned. We both laughed at the idea of the lifeguard screaming through her bullhorn to “step away from the tree!”

We soon returned to our spot and settled in our chairs when I heard a child yell, “Mom, come back!” I looked at the water and noticed two young children splashing in it. It appeared their parents were snorkeling by the reef.

“She can’t hear you, Laney,” said the boy.

“Well, I want her to come back.”

Two small kids in the water with no parents? I kept my eyes peeled on them. A small wave knocked down the young girl. I looked over at the lifeguard. Miss Lifeguard was not paying the least bit of attention to these kids. She had her eyes locked on the reef. I stood up.

“What are you doing?” my husband asked.

“No one is watching those kids. Not even the lifeguard!”

“Yeah, and you can’t swim.”

“Well, what if something happens to them?”

“They’re not your responsibility, and you didn’t come here to babysit,” he said.

A mental image of our youngest daughter suddenly came to mind while my husband was “babysitting” her. She was a toddler and had happily colored the palms of her hands and bottoms of her feet with my red lipstick while sitting on our brand new carpet.

Soon enough the errant parents returned and I could relax again. I grabbed my iPod from my bag and stuffed in the ear buds. The first few notes of a Billy Joel song began to fill my head. Ahhh. Suddenly an earsplitting siren, the kind that might signal an approaching train, began to blare. My mind flashed back to the first traffic sign I saw from our taxi on the way to our hotel: Tsunami Evacuation Route. The hair on my arms stood on end and my eyes snapped to attention at the sound. It didn’t take long to realize that the siren was coming from Miss Lifeguard’s bullhorn. She had it trained on a small boat which was headed straight for the reef. After about two minutes, she turned off the siren and began shouting, “Turn your motor craft around! You are in a protected area! GO BACK NOW!” At some point the sailor recognized his mistake and turned back.

Without one word to each other, my husband and I packed up our belongings and folded our rented beach chairs. As we were leaving, we passed an elderly gentleman, emerging from the water. He had a huge grin on his face and big rock in his hand. He was walking towards his wife who was sitting on a beach towel nearby.

“Whatcha got there, Lou?” she asked.

My husband and I exchanged a knowing glance. Although she didn’t use the bullhorn, we heard the lifeguard say, “I’m sorry, Sir, but you’re not allowed to remove anything from the water or the beach. It’s a protected area.”

About this writer

  • Donna M. Magnotta

    Donna M. Magnotta

    Donna M. Magnotta lives in New York with her husband and daughter, and belongs to a multi-cultural, multi-generational group of memoirists, called the Literary Godmothers. When she’s not writing, Donna can usually be found in her kitchen covered in flour and confectioners’ sugar.

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3 Responses to “A Day at the Beach . . . I Mean Reef!”

  1. I love the “protected area” theme in this essay. Kudos to you, Donna. This is fantastic!

  2. Carolyn says:

    The author takes an “ordinary” day at the beach (aka reef) and reveals the comedy underneath the most serious of Lifeguards. You know I’ll be checking the territory surrounding where I sit on the beach this summer to make sure the lifeguards are truly guarding the children and adults all the while searching for a story to share.

  3. Linda O'Connell says:

    I can certainly relate to this story. Such an idyllic place, with a nerve shattering bullhorn. LOL

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