Not quite lost at sea

John Browne
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I almost disappeared when I was 14 years old.

The Canadian Red Cross holds its Water Safety Week in June, so this is a good time for a cautionary tale.

My family had a summer home in Topsail in the 1960s and we spent a lot of our summer days on Topsail beach.

That's where I learned to swim. I wasn't a strong swimmer, but I could tread water like an otter.

This particular sunny day, my brothers and I brought an old yellow, U.S. Army surplus rubber dinghy to the beach for some fun.

A some point during the afternoon a little girl lost her beach ball in the water. The current had taken it too far for her to retrieve it.

We saw the dilemma but then, as we often did, we fought over who was going to rescue the ball and return it to the kid.

Eventually, I won the push and pull on the dingy and started after the beach ball that, by this time, had opened up a lot of water on us.

Try as I might, I couldn't paddle fast enough to catch it. The ball appeared to be moving toward the horizon twice as fast as I paddled.

With my head down I worked the small aluminum paddle left side, right side with all the energy I could muster.

By this time people on the shore were shouting at me to come back, but I ignored them.

The water darkened the wind picked up and it got a lot cooler. Things were changing. The current was stronger. I finally gave up and watched the ball disappear in the horizon.

I rested by arms on the side of the dingy for a few moments, head bowed.

I could barely hear the muffled voices from the shore now but I looked over my shoulder and was shocked to see how far I'd actually gone. The people on the shoreline were nothing but dots. I felt a little queazy. I wasn’t wearing a life jacket.

I turned the dinghy around and started back to shore, not really confident I'd have enough strength to make it.

As I crawled out of the dinghy a man said gruffly: "You went too far. You could have been swept away."

I was too exhausted to answer and besides he was right.

Then I saw the little girl standing on the beach looking straight at me.

“Where’s my ball?”

“A whale ate it,” I replied sheepishly.

Organizations: Canadian Red Cross, U.S. Army

Geographic location: Topsail

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