beach watch

Ripped Seaward

Rip currents kill more Americans than hurricanes, floods or tornadoes, says Ben Sherman, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Shark attacks? No contest. Most years, sharks don't kill a single American. But every year, more than 100 Americans drown in rip currents, including in the relatively calm-seeming Great Lakes.

Between 32,000 and 40,000 people are rescued in the United States each year from rip currents -- sections of water rushing out to sea up to eight feet per second, or faster than the best Olympic swimmers, according to the U.S. Lifesaving Association.

A national campaign to prevent drownings was recently launched with a new Web site (www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov) that details how to identify, avoid and survive a rip current. The upshot:

* Sometimes there are no visual clues, so always swim with a buddy and near a lifeguard station. Rip current conditions are included in "surf zone forecasts" at www.nws.noaa.gov.

* If caught in a riptide, don't fight the current by trying to swim to shore. Instead, first swim parallel to the shoreline, and head to shore only after you feel you've escaped the rushing tide.

cuba watch

Religious Freedom?

Three Milwaukee Methodists fined $25,500 for worshiping with a sister church in Havana without the permission of the U.S. government are challenging the rules that severely restrict travel to Cuba. The Methodists claim the rules abridge their freedom of religion and are racially discriminatory.

The Methodists were part of a six-member delegation that visited their sister church via Canada without applying for a special permit. (Religious reasons are one of the possible exceptions to a virtual ban on travel to Cuba, but the application process, the Methodists knew, can be lengthy and imposing.)

Lawyer Art Heitzer adds that at the time his clients were fined, in 1999, U.S. rules not only gave Cuban Americans more freedom to visit Cuba (people with family in Cuba could visit once a year for humanitarian reasons), but explicitly stated that Cuban Americans could not be fined for a first offense. His clients, on the other hand, were socked first time out. It's taken four years to challenge the fines because until recently, the United States had no office set up to hear cases.

By the way, the selective prosecution issue cited above is now moot because the Bush administration last year threw the doors wide open for those visiting family in Cuba -- i.e., Cuban Americans -- even as it clamped down travel for other Americans.

Molly Miller, a spokeswoman for the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said she could not comment on the case. OFAC, a branch of the Treasury Department, is charged with tracking international drug lords, terrorists who traffic in weapons of mass destruction, and Americans who travel to Cuba.

TRAVEL TICKER

Flights between the United States and Paris have so far been only marginally affected by the collapse of a new section of Charles de Gaulle Airport. Air France and partner airline Delta were the only airlines flying between the United States and Paris from or to the now-closed section of the airport. United, which has nonstops from Dulles to an older section of de Gaulle, said its flights have not been affected. Other delays have been minimal, said an Air France spokeswoman . . . World War II history buffs might be surprised by some of the war-related sites in Northern Virginia, such as the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Alexandria that features tours focusing on the war's effects on the house and its inhabitants. Other sites and special events for this year are at www.cradleofvictory.com, or ask for the new "World War II Heritage Trail" brochure at 800-432-1792.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

Hark! Newark

Fly from Dulles to Newark for $49 each way beginning June 16. Details: What's the Deal, Page P3.

Reporting: Cindy Loose.

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to: cogo@washpost.com. By fax: 202-912-3609. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.