Near Death Experiences Part 3

August 7, 2007 at 10:12 am 3 comments



I am not the world’s strongest swimmer. I did get my Swimming Proficiency Badge while in the Cubs so I am able to swim 25 metres and rescue a brick from the bottom of a heavily chlorinated pool while wearing pyjamas. But, this has not proved to be the perfect training for the real thing. The sea. The ocean. The big blue. Maybe I should always wear pyjamas when I go swimming. 

I have nearly drowned twice. The first time was in the beautiful lagoon of Oludeniz in Turkey. C and I were on holiday there a few years ago. Oludeniz is beautiful with its white fine sand tipping into the beautiful blue/green water of the lagoon. The lagoon is framed by sheer cliffs. Paragliders launch themselves from the top of these cliffs and soar like graceful eagles until they descend onto the beach. Indeed our neighbours, who are big in the paragliding world – Neil was former captain of the UK team – have flown here themselves. But, not on the day that C and I were there. 

It was very hot. C and I decided to swim a while in order to cool down a bit. The water was clean and cool. The beach sloped gently into the sea, giving an expanse of shallow water, before falling away quite dramatically into deep water. While swimming you could tell that you had crossed the “ledge” by the considerable drop in water temperature. C and I were close to this ledge, taking in the views.

Earlier we had spotted a bunch of local lads, in their early twenties, teaching one of their number to swim. Right now this lad was stood alone, near to us, waist-high in the water, while his mates were catching some rays back on the beach. After a while he started to jump up and down in the water. After a little while longer he began to wave his arms around. His mates waved back. After a little while longer he began to slip under the water. It suddenly became clear to C and I that he wasn’t messing around. He was in difficulty. He was clearly caught on the edge of the ledge and the sand was slipping away beneath his feet. His mates hadn’t noticed and were too far away to help him in any case. And, then he disappeared. 

I dived into the water, over the ledge, and grabbed the lad. He was really panicking at this point and grabbed me and pulled me and dragged me down with him. It took a huge amount of energy and strength for me to get beneath him, to grab his legs and literally to hurl him away from me back into the shallows. He crawled to the shore. I emerged from the sea, gasping and gagging on water I had swollen. I crawled to the shore. There his mates surrounded me and patted me on the back. They had no English but it was clear that they were very happy that I had rescued their mate from a potentially dangerous situation. I was quite proud of myself that day. I think I save that lad’s life. 

The second time I nearly drowned was a lot more recent. It was Christmas 2005. It was the second day of our holiday in Australia. We were in Sydney staying with a very good friend, K, who was working over there.

We were taking in the coastal path walking from Clovelly to Bondi Beach. About half way round we stopped for a bite to eat at Bronte Beach before walking on to Tamarama. We were all a bit hot and so we decided to stay a while at Tamarama and take a cooling, refreshing dip in the beautiful blue sea. 

After a little sunbathing C and I went into the water together while K was guarding the bags and applying her suntan cream. C and I were bobbing up and down in the waves, sometimes hopping on one leg, sometimes with C holding onto me as I bobbed.

We were ecstatic. We could not believe that only a couple of days earlier we had been in the depths of a British winter, complete with snow. We were engrossed in the view, the excitement, the whole experience. I should also add that this was considered to be a safe beach. And, there were lots of other people in the water at the same time as ourselves. The beach was guarded by life guards and we were well between the flags that designated the safe swimming area. 

Anyhow, after chatting for ten minutes or so, C and I noticed that we had drifted a few metres away from the main crowd of bathers. At the same time, waves began to break on top of us, taking us under. But at this point, once the wave had broken, I was still able to hop and bring my head above the surface. We looked at each other and decided it would be best to swim for shore.

We swam. We swam for a good five minutes. We were getting nowhere. Actually we were getting further from the shore. We were swimming backwards. We were in a rip tide. We were in a rip tide that was taking us beyond the edge of the rocks and into the open sea. Into the open, shark-infested sea. We had already heard of two swimmers who had been killed by bull sharks since our arrival Down Under, so this was not a pleasant prospect. And, again, waves began to break onto us and take us under. But, by now I was tiring and there was no sand beneath my feet when I attempted to hop. By now, I was beneath the surface more than I was above it. I realised that I was helpless. I was too tired to swim to shore. C is a stronger swimmer than I am. I told her she should leave me and try to swim back. She refused. She wouldn’t leave me. This was the closest I have ever felt to death. C and I were actually, silently, beginning to say goodbye to each other. Helpless. But, at least we were together.

I got taken down again by a big wave. As I spluttered back to the surface and looked around for C, I was surprised to hear another voice: “G’day folks. Do you need a hand?” It was a lifeguard. Sat there on a surfboard, all bronzed, blond and muscular in his red swim shorts. I could have kissed him. They must have been watching us from the shore and realised that we were in difficulty. He had swam out beyond us on his board to come to our rescue. However, we were in a very rough bit of sea so as we clung to his board he signalled for another lifeguard to came and help. And soon, another surf knight arrived on his gleaming steed.

Being rescued was not the easiest. For a while both rescuer and rescuee spent a good time somersaulting around in the water, gripping a surfboard, as waves crashed about us. My knuckles were raw from gripping the cord and being pressed against the board. Eventually we made it to some flat water. Now they attempted to get us onto the boards. C was hesitant. Throughout most of this experience she had been clinging on with just one hand, while the other attempted to cling onto her dignity and the bikini bottoms which every crashing wave attempted to wrench from her bum. C insisted on pulling her pants back up before climbing on board and being whisked to the safety of land.

Once C was safe it was my turn. I was instructed to clamber aboard on my belly. Once I was on, I heard something from another man that I hope never to hear again: “Spread your legs mate, I’m coming in from behind!” With my guardian angel kneeling behind me we veritably flew back to shore. “No more swimming for you today mate!” He instructed as he went off to move the safety flags…..

C and I clambered back to our friend Kate. Our friend Kate who had missed the whole thing. An old guy who had been sat next to her suddenly remarked: “Jeez, if I’d a known they wuz with you, I’d a given you a heads up” (to be read in an Australian accent). Everyone we met thereafter seemed to have good advice how to survive a rip tide. I wish they had given it to us before we had entered the water. The advice goes a) don’t attempt to swim your way out – you will just tire and drown or attract shark and be eaten; b) put one arm in the air to signal that you require assistance; c) float. Apparently rip tides pull you out but then, as if in a big arc, will simply deposit you further down the coast. As long as the sharks don’t get you, you’ll be fine as long as you float. 

We chilled for the rest of the day and then, in the evening, went to a bar in another Sydney suburb to meet up with some of K’s work colleagues. One Aussie native was adamant that she knew C from somewhere. We then attempted to determine how this could possibly be. We ruled out London and other parts of the UK and everything else until the girl suddenly exclaimed: “I know! You were the girl rescued from Tamarama Bay this arvo……” C’s fifteen minutes of fame. 

I hope we don’t come that close to having to say goodbye to each other for a very, very long time, C and I. 


Entry filed under: Cautionary Tales, middleman, travel. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Near Death Experiences Part 2 Royston Vasey (Where My Mother-In-Law Lives)

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rod Cuthbert  |  October 22, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    hey, nice story, and every word of it rings true. i reckon surf lifesavers are the perfect embodiment of being australian, right down to that wry line about coming in from behind! glad you survived, anyway…


  • 2. californiarestinpeace  |  February 11, 2013 at 2:51 am

    I have always swam into a rip tide and made it to shore, and completely tapped out, just don’t want to be in deep water. But yeah, it’s a good idea to float it out, the shark encounter chances being what they are. Thanks. Sounds like your trip to Oleduniz was good.


    • 3. Middle Man  |  February 11, 2013 at 8:11 am

      Thanks California,

      Let’s be careful out there!



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