It's funny how nostalgia hits you, one minute you're all good, living in the present and looking forward to the future, and then a memory returns and hits you. This time of year I always think of the same memory, and especially today with all this news of a storm hitting the UK and cancelling my train to work. It was around this time five years ago that I helped save a man's life during a storm, and I always wonder what would have happened if we hadn't have been on the beach that day.
I was 17, living in Australia about to sit my final year 12 exams, and at the beginning of a relationship that went on for the next three years. It was spring in Perth, and there was a storm coming. The relationship was still new, we'd only been going out a couple of weeks, and we were sneaking around as he was my sailing instructor and the brother of a guy in my year at school. We were down at the beach in the middle of the storm, cuddled up in the rain and just talking, when we noticed a man in a bright red kayak being washed up on the beach. He had suddenly appeared, he wasn't there a couple of minutes previously, and the beach was deserted due to the weather.
We didn't think anything of it and just left him to it as he fell out of his kayak onto the beach. Through the rain we then saw him crawling up the beach towards us, caked in wet sand. Crawling!? Why is he crawling? That's odd. As he came further we could see him more clearly...there were strands of wet hair clinging to his forehead, and he was blue. Totally blue...he looked like an ice block. We realized something was wrong and raced down the sand towards him, his face broke into a relieved smile as he saw us, and he collapsed onto the sand in front of us as his body gave up. I'll never forget that sight, it's still so clear in my mind it could have happened yesterday.
We grabbed hold of him and between the two of us carried him to the public toilets at the side of the beach. We asked him what had happened...his voice shaking he was barely able to speak, eventually he managed to tell us that he had started out in his kayak at 1pm on Rottnest Island, when the storm hit and carried him out to sea. Luckily it had carried him 20 kilometers towards the Western Australian coastline and not out the opposite way out to sea, but it was now around 5:30pm and he had been out in the ocean in the middle of a storm for over four hours, no wonder he was blue and stone cold!
After we'd sat him down on a bench in the toilets/shower room, my ex called an ambulance and the Sea Rescue team (a bit like the Aussie version of RNLI), and I ran back to the car and grabbed a huge blanket that was in the boot. We wrapped it around him and I sat there with my arms around this shivering man trying to keep him warm. Luckily my ex was a sailing instructor and a member of the sea rescue team, so he was trained in first aid. Rather than put him in a hot shower and make the possibility of hypothermia worse, I just sat there for what seemed like an age, with the blanket around him holding him and rubbing his skin waiting for the ambulance, my heart pounding.
The ambulance finally arrived and the paramedics came in and checked him over, and asked us questions about how we'd found him. They took him to the ambulance and asked for our details. I was terrified my parents would find out so we just gave them my ex's details and refused to give them mine. The ambulance sped off to the hospital, and I went home soaking wet as if nothing had happened, my parents were out so I showered and changed and settled down on the sofa as if I'd been there all evening.
Over the next couple of days it was all over the news, you can still see the articles on Perth Now, WA Today, and ABC News. I feigned shock when it was announced at sailing that my ex had saved this guys life as everyone congratulated him and he just looked at me and grinned. I do love a good secret. Eventually it all came out, and we always discussed how we wondered what the guy was doing now. A year or so later we discovered his children went to the same school as us, John XXIII College. Perth is such a small world!
|Frank Okely with his Kayak. Photo from ABC News.|
It's funny how things work out, and I always wonder what would have happened if we hadn't have been on the beach that afternoon. After all, the area was deserted and the nearest house where there would have been people was a 10 minute walk away, how he would have got there in his state I don't know.
Frank Okely, if you ever read this, we're very happy you were ok!