As he emerged from the water, he began scratching his legs, idly at first, then in a panic. Soon, Giac Li was frantically rubbing every inch of skin exposed by his bikini.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he said with alarm to a stranger as he raked his fingernails across his reddening stomach. "Can you help? Is there someone to help me? I don't know what it is."
Li, a 50-year-old Falls Church resident, was doing the jellyfish dance, a ritual repeated all day, every day at Sandy Point State Park on the Chesapeake Bay, where sunbathers looking for a cool dip are in for a stinging surprise.
As Li learned, there is little remedy. "There is no spray or medicine for jellyfish stings. The best relief is a cold shower," says the message posted by lifeguards tired of inflamed beachgoers beating down the door of their first aid station.
Some recommend smearing the skin with meat tenderizer. Sounds weird, but they swear by it.
Jellyfish are an annual nuisance at bay beaches. This year, they're that and more thanks to the drought, which has increased the water's salinity--nirvana for sea nettles.
"I've been coming down here for 13 years, and it's the worst it's ever been," said Joe Elburn, a maintenance worker from Grasonville, Md., his stomach and legs covered with red welts. "When you walk into the water, it feels like sea grass or something around your legs. But it's tentacles."
Lyuba Vaysberg, 60, and her sister, Sarra Kolker, 70, threw in the beach towel by noon yesterday and headed back to Baltimore. "We are very patient people," said Vaysberg, an immigrant from Ukraine. "But it's over. It's over."
Not everyone was repulsed. Six pre-teen girls armed with two fishing nets were fascinated by the gooey, bulbous creatures. They scooped dozens from the water, their tentacles dangling like spaghetti from a strainer, and dumped them into buckets for observation and experimentation usually reserved for biology labs. "They're kind of neat to watch," said Christy Hyers, 11, of Stevensville.
Sandy Point's proximity to both Baltimore and Washington makes it perfect for those without time, money or inclination to cross the Bay Bridge to the Atlantic Ocean beaches. By midday yesterday, about 100 people were scattered on the brown sandy beach, which looks out on the bridge. Sixteen-wheelers rumbled across the span, drowning out the sea gulls.
"Ocean City is too far. People say it's, like, three hours," said Emma Serrano, 48, a Mount Rainier resident who works in a Washington hair salon.
At 10:30 yesterday morning, instead of grimacing through gridlock on the Eastern Shore, Serrano was barbecuing chicken legs and beef and fixing tamales on a charcoal grill near Sandy Point's parking lot.
"I like to cook outside," she said. "I can't do that at my apartment. This is my special beach."