Quicksand and how to Escape

A stroll down an ocean beach with friends ended in sudden panic. Stopping to pick up various beach glass along the way soon led to my friends being way ahead. Sssluuuurrpppp. Suddenly I started sinking up to my ankles. I tossed my heavy backpack to the ground to lighten the weight. A slurping similar to sucking jello through your tongue, sssluuuuurrrrrrrrrrrrrp, added panic to the fact I was sinking rapidly in the beach sand. Yelling for help, one friend raced back stopping short of where I was sinking now up to my thighs.

My first thought was I was going to go under as the slurping sounds continued to pull me in like a vacuum sucking a sock up its tube. Now midthigh it was hard to move. Thinking quickly I tossed my walking stick toward my friend and told her to pull me out. Instinctively, I stopped struggling and flattened my body level to the sand. My friend was able to guide me out. The incident was traumatic and my thoughts scattered to what ifs – what if my friend hadn’t come back, what if I had sunk even lower and couldn’t move, what if no one had been with me?

This beach sink sand found in Puget Sound is much like the movie depictions of quick sand relentlessy sucking its victim in until they disappear. There are stories of people being air lifted out of the sand because they had gone in to their shoulders. FIrst hand experience with the similarities to quicksand led me to want to find out more information so it wouldn’t happen again. The panic of the incident has heightened my fear of beaches and the slightest sinking in finds me fleeing to safety.

Definition of quicksand

Quicksand is defined in WIkipedia as ‘a colloid hydrogel consisting of fine granular matter (such as sand or silt), clay, and salt water. In the name, as in that of quicksilver (mercury), “quick” does not mean “fast,” but “living” (cf. the expression the quick and the dead).’

The Whidbey Island Parks and Recreation described my experience as a viscous shrimp bed where whales scoop up large volumes of sand with their dinner of shrimp. You can see bubbles emerging from the top of the sand as the shrimp create breathing holes. From the definition above it would ring true based on granular matter, such as sand and salt water, and quick meaning living, as in living shrimp bed.

Quicksand is basically just ordinary sand that has been so saturated with water that the friction between sand particles is reduced. The resulting sand is a mushy mixture of sand and water that can no longer support any weight according to How Stuff Works.

Quicksand can be found around the world on beaches, on riverbanks, in shorelines, in deserts where there might be underground springs and in jungles, anywhere there is water under or above the ground. Unsuspecting tourists or locals step into these mixtures of sand and salt water regularly on Whidbey Island located in Puget Sound near Seattle. I’ve witnessed teens, children and dogs racing out playing on the beach only to start sinking up to their ankles and racing back out of the water shrieking. I’ve become somewhat of a watchdog making sure I warn people about areas I know might have sink sand and keeping an eye out in case someone needs help. Panic is your worst enemy as the more you struggle the more the sand will pull you in (basically, as you struggle ‘you’ are pulling yourself in), while if are still, you will literally begin to float in and even rise up. You will stop sinking.

How to survive quicksand

The Park and Recreation Department said to do exactly as I did when I found myself in sink sand. If you can remember the three steps below, you will be able to help yourself survive sink or quicksand.

a) stop moving, fighting, struggling

b) lean forward and flat and try to lift your body up and out

c) rock forward and crawl out on your belly.

It was amazing to me that I did exactly that quite instinctively and without prior knowledge as to how I should act. The process is similar to what you’d do in a fire – stop, drop and instead of roll, rock and crawl.

The advantage I had was of a friend helping to move me forward with the walking stick. If you don’t have a walking stick or a friend, crawling out and flat across the sand is effective just so you continue to have your wits about you. According to How Stuff Works, ‘the human body has a density of 62.4 pounds per cubic foot and is able to float on water. Quicksand is denser water – it has a density of about 125 pound per cubic foot – which means you can float more easily on quicksand than on water.’

On the island we call it sink sand. In a simplified definition quick sand is solid sand that has been liquified and saturated by water. When in this state, movement coupled with weight on the sand causes it to shift. In simple terms it is a soup of sand and water, clay and water or silt and water. Water has to be an ingredient to get the recipe, quicksand. In my situation the activity of the whales scooping up the shrimp accounted for water saturation deep into the sand creating sink sand.