“A dangerous place”
In one of my recent little pieces I wrote of the joy of swimming. I mentioned the wonderful sensation of gliding through the water and the happy discovery that swimming remains a pleasure into old age. However I neglected to mention a downside of swimming, particularly open lake swimming. I was reminded of it on the long August weekend. I refer to the risk of drowning.
Saturday August 5 was one of those days when Lake Huron rages and roars. Waves steamed ashore and crashed on the sand. Less obvious were the powerful undertows being generated as the water of the broken waves was sucked back out into the lake. Into these dangerous conditions, two swimmers, a father and a son, launched themselves, breast stroking straight out through wave after wave, heading towards Donald Trump’s America on the far shore.
As I watched them go out, I thought “silly buggers” but I did nothing to stop them. I turned my attention to Cooper the dog digging holes in the sand. Not long afterwards the first loud frightened cries for help were heard on the beach. The sounds came from an area on the lake fifty yards off shore where two heads rose and fell in the brownish water. HELP. I’M EXHAUSTED. HELP. As these shocking sounds reached our ears, all of us ran through the same mental drill. Is this a joke? No. This is for real. Now what?
Two of us decided to go into the water. I knew not to make physical contact for fear of being pulled under by a terrified swimmer but I am a strong swimmer and I felt that the tired desperate voices needed help as quickly as possible. As I headed into the surf I stripped myself of all clothing, except for the bare minimum required by Victorian standards of decency, while my son Christopher, who was using his noggin, tried to hand me a life jacket that could be used as a rescue tool when I reached the men. But I was in action mode and waved it off, thus violating the first rule of life saving – first, think you silly bugger.
What happened during the next ten minutes or so in the water is a blur. A young woman and I reached the two men and found that it was the father who was in trouble. As the waves rushed over us and pushed us forwards and backwards, towards the shore then away from shore, the father kept saying in a low mournful voice “I’m exhausted, What was I thinking?” and it occurred to me that the situation could turn out badly. But the man remained calm and we managed to make our way to a rescue line that had been formed by the people on shore, and we were pulled onto the shore. The father lay in an in exhausted heap on the sand while I, lifted by a large wave, landed on top of him.
Later, after a hot shower, I lay on the couch thinking “what if” and realizing we had been lucky. Next time we needed to be better equipped and better prepared and better educated. Those exciting waves rolling into shore and the calmest of waters can be deadly. The lake for all its beauty is a dangerous place.
August 8, 2017