• Terry Groves

B.R.A.T.S. Cedar Adventure

Sometimes the most innocent activities lead to the most incredible adventures, especially when you are a brat. I recall the day a simple swim turned into a event that still haunts me.

If you have been reading my posts, you will know that I have always been a strong swimmer. My lessons started early, age 3 or 4 and, once I caught on to keeping my head above water, or at least being able to get my head above water once in a while, I loved swimming.

Living in Fort Henry Heights, CFB Kingston, was a paradise for those who love aquatics. There was an excellent pool in the base gym, there was Arrowhead beach (no marina in my day so it was all open for swimming, there was the rope swing, and there was all of Deadman Bay.

Of course, the ultimate adventure, was to swim from Cartwright Point to Whiskey Island, and then to Cedar Island. The park, trails, freedom of Cedar was a constant tug for me. No adults, or at least only a few and none of them knew us, telling us what to do, or not to do...after-all, we were brats. We even camped the occasional time on Cedar.

Getting to Cedar was the challenge. There were no roads, bridges or other pedestrian access. You either went by boat or you swam. You could also walk there in the winter when the bay froze. There was a dock there as it is a historic site. Did I mention that there is a Cathcart Tower on Cedar Island? It was part of the battlements of Old Fort Henry which is just across the bay.

My older brothers, their friends and I had swam to the island a lot. One day I had the bright idea to take my younger brothers, Paul, Dale, and Tony, you know, kind of introduce them to the adventure. Maybe I wanted to show off a bit. I was 13 or 14.

We made the long walk to the end of Cartwright point. Tony was a bit nervous, he wasn't the strongest swimmer. I found a small log that he could hold onto as he swam. We headed into the water, me leading but keeping a close eye on the rest. We arrived at Whiskey Island, then it was a short swim to the dock on Cedar. All went well.

After traversing the island, visiting the tower, eating our lunches and goofing off, it was time to head home. We went to the dock, found a large board for Tony and headed to Whiskey. There was a family who had arrived by boat and were picnicking near the dock. They seemed intrigued that we would swim to the island which made me feel pretty good.

Then things started to get off the rails.

I was helping Tony as the current between Cedar and Whiskey was a bit stronger now and threatened to take him out into the St Lawrence River. This would not be a good thing. We were all in a group, I wanted everyone near.

When we were close to Whiskey, we got into some weeds. Feeling them against his legs, Paul began to panic and thrash. I needed to get to him, my calling wasn't calming him, but I also had to keep helping Tony. In a few seconds, it was apparent that Paul was drowning, he was in full frantic mode, barely able to keep his face above water. I had to act.

I let Tony go. In my mind I could see myself trying to explain to my parents why my brother drowned, why Tony was swept out into the St Lawrence River, next stop the Atlantic Ocean, why I had taken them on this trip. I didn't want my brothers becoming part of the legend of the bay. As soon as I reached Paul, he clamped onto me, trying to climb on me to get out of the water. Paul was my younger brother and was a bit shorter than me but he was thicker, he was no slouch when it came to strength, and he was drowning. Drowning people are on the same adrenaline rush as their would-be rescuers, they can be unnaturally strong.

I was expecting expecting him to grab me. I had done enough lifesaving training in my swim lessons to know what to expect from a drowning victim. I knew that approaching him was about the most dangerous thing to do but I had nothing else to reach him with. The board Tony was on would have been good, but I couldn't get it to him fast enough, with both Tony's weight and the strong current fighting me.

As I went under, I knew what to do. The words of my swimming instructor rang in my head, "if a drowning person grabs you, dive down. The last thing they want to do is go under and they will let go." That man was no liar, Paul let me go. As soon as I came to the surface, Paul grabbed me again, and again, and again. I was getting tired, now I was scared for me too. I saw Tony floating away but, thankfully, he let go of the board and just swam toward us.

Finally, I got behind Paul, put my arm around his neck and said, "It's ok Paul, I got you." He was still struggling so, even though I was still swimming, I said, "I can touch bottom, we are OK." He calmed a bit and I was able to swim us into shallow water, get his feet onto solid ground. He was ok so now I could turn to Tony. He had made it to shore. Dale had made it without incident, thank God.

Then what had just happened washed over me and I felt all my energy drain out of me. After that huge adrenaline rush, I was on the crash. I began to shake and I couldn't stand up. I didn't want to put Paul back in the water but what were we going to do? Then I heard the man with his family call out, "Are you guys alright?"

That was it, I was alright with being rescued. I asked he would bring his boat and run us to the dock at Arrowhead beach. That is all I remember, I don't recall the boat ride, but I know the man and his family helped us. I don't recall the walk home or our discussion. I don't even recall if we told our parents about the ordeal. I know I would have been concerned about being banned from going to Cedar Island any more but, it's not like a ban ever stopped me...I was a brat.

What I do know is that I realized that day, just how important my brothers are to me. It also reminded me just how fast tragedy can overcome you. Even when you think you are being careful.

Stay safe out there. I don't want to lose any of my readers, my brat family.

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