I am now at Day 22 of the My 500 Words Challenge and today's task is to write about fear. This is one thing we all have in common. Many things make us afraid, anxious, and worried. It's what we do with this fear and how we overcome it that makes us human. We can't wallow in it - do we fight it or give in?
As far as I know I don't have any phobias like being afraid of spiders or open spaces. I'm not good at heights - once when in the CN Tower in Toronto my feet would not move when I attempted to walk on the glass floor 553-metres above ground. I don't know if this was fear of falling, but I physically could not do it - my feet would not move.
I did once in my life experience real fear and terror. On 20th April 1986 I was wind surfing on Sandymount Strand with my brother Brian (at the time we lived on Strand Road). I was not an experienced wind-surfer, but I could mange to move around in moderate breezes OK.
|Evening Press - 21st April 1986.
We got on well and at one stage met for a chat quite far out to sea. We decided to swap boards - this was not a good idea. I was having difficulty with the new board falling in a lot. I started to get tired, I also had a thin wetsuit on, and I was also getting cold. The wind picked up, and it was an off-shore breeze. The tide was also going out - I was in trouble.
I kept trying to get the sail up on the board, but tiredness and cold (especially my hands) meant that I kept falling back into the sea. I was determined not to leave the board and to try to make it back to shore. The sea was shallow enough for me to walk, but with the wind and the tide in the wrong direction for me I was quickly blown further out to sea. Now I was getting worried. Brian could see I was in difficulty and bravely came out to me - I was never so glad to see him. We decided that he would go back to shore and get help - I was definitely scared and alone when he left.
It's a weird feeling being on your own in Dublin Bay surrounded by a million people who don't know your life is in danger. Little did I know it, but several people on the shore saw that I was in difficulty and phoned the emergency services - this was in the days before mobile phones.
At this stage I could just about stand on the sea-bed on my toes and keep my face above water. The wind was in my face and was also whipping up the waves - for every step I made forward, I was being washed and blown back two steps. I'm certain hypothermia was setting in - I got the feeling of euphoria that is often associated with the cold.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I could stand firm and the water was only up to my waist - I had come to a sandbank. Now it was a lot easier to move. I could now work my way back to shore by staying in the shallower water - what relief. Brian came rushing out from the shore and took my board and sail - I could barely carry them. We were greeted at water's edge by a Garda in bare feet with his trousers rolled up to his knees! Despite my ordeal, I thought this was the funniest thing. He told me that there had been five separate calls to the emergency services and that the Dún Laoghaire RNLI lifeboat was out to sea looking for me. He was quickly satisfied that there had been a genuine danger and let me go back to my apartment across the road. I quickly got the wetsuit off and climbed into bed with two quilts to warm up.
The clipping above, which I still have, reminds me of my mortality. Though I never met the RNLI crew who were looking for me, I have since had a great respect for these volunteers who sometimes have to put to sea to rescue people who do stupid things like going out windsurfing on a cold windy day. I have only tried wind-surfing a handful of times since - each time there was barely enough wind to fill a sail and the sea was almost calm. I was always very nervous and mindful of what happened to me 30 years ago, and I have the utmost respect for the power of the sea.
While out for a walk on Sandymount Strand in June 2010 when the tide was out, I made the following video from the spot where I think I was saved: