It was never a good idea to jump off the pier at this point around the bend, close to the end and yet here I was doing it without a thought.
Well, that's not quite true because I had given it a lot of thought in the couple of seconds it took me to get my shoes off and climb over the rail.
It was the smaller pier flanking the river mouth and this part faced almost out to sea.
Amongst the dangers here were the rocks lurking just below the surface of the roiling sea and the ever changing strong currents caused by the outflowing river meeting the incoming tides.
Add to that the numerous fishing lines all equipped with floaters below which dangled several barbed hooks just waiting to snare a swimmer and wrap him in unbreakable nylon line.
This was a favourite fishing spot.
Nevertheless I jumped in cannonball style to stay shallow and avoid the rocks and when I surfaced there was the kid just going under for what was probably his third time.
It was a popular belief that if a drowning man went under for a third time he would not come up although I have no idea if that is true as I had never seen it happen but I grabbed hold of the boy clamped my hands on each side of his head and rammed it against my shoulder. With his head above the water he immediately relaxed although that was not what we had been told to expect in our lifesaving classes. So much for the drowning man struggling and trying to grab hold of you and take you down with him. All that practice and none of it needed.
My daydream while taking the St. John's Life Saving Course was probably not unlike any teenage boy in the same situation.
I would find myself in the position to save a beautiful teenage girl from drowning in the relentless sea, drag her to the beach where I would resuscitate her with artificial respiration (not mouth to mouth in those days ). She would be so grateful that she would give me a big kiss and take me home to her filthy rich mom and dad who, also grateful, would shower me with expensive gifts.
So here I was…Right Place….Right Time….Wrong Victim.
I started to swim for the pier where my friend was quickly climbing down the ladder to help.
The young boy had been fishing with his friend. Without fishing rods they were just casting their lines out by hand and inevitably had managed to tangle with each other. When he was reaching over to try to unravel the lines he had simply tumbled over. I am under no delusions that if I had not been there one of the fishermen would have managed to go in after him but I just happened to be younger and faster so there I was trying to drag this boy towards the pier in a sea that was not going to cooperate with me.
Unfortunately the recommended stroke, which was completely adequate while training in a pool, was proving ineffective. Trying to get any kind of momentum on my back using only legs as propulsion was not working so I tried another trick we had learned. Putting my right hand over the boy's mouth I pinched his nose. He immediately grabbed my wrist with both hands which was exactly what he was supposed to do. With him hanging on I now had my left arm free to help us move better.
After a couple of aborted attempts at reaching the ladder I realised that it was not going to work. The lower part of the pier was covered in barnacles and the waves and currents were going to tear us to pieces on them. A single swimmer might have made it with only a few cuts but I couldn't get close enough to hand the boy off to my friend on the ladder. I indicated that I was heading for the beach and took off in that direction.
Once I battled the currents to the bend in the pier it was an easy swim to the beach.
As soon as I figured we were both within our depth I let go of the kid and we both waded out of the water.
I sat down to catch my breath and the kid just said “Thanks” and took off to meet his friend on the pier.
At least he had been no trouble and was certainly polite.
My friend yelled at the kid to be more careful and then yelled at me for jumping in and getting wet. Now we would have to go home and come back wasting time. I told him if he hadn't loaned the key to his brother we would never have been on the pier to find him in the first place. That was about as heated as our arguments ever got. The only dry clothing I had was my shoes and it certainly wasn't sunny enough to expect to get dry anytime soon so I did go home to change.
When my mother asked what had happened I told her I had decided to try swimming in my clothes which was a joke so not a lie. I just didn't need any more, concerned mother, rules for the rest of the summer and, given the same circumstances, I would have done the same. In any case I had already broken several rules that day.
Our original plan had been to take the kayak we had built ourselves over to the other side of the river and do some exploring. We kept it at the swimming club hut locked with a padlock with only one key.
We carried on with our day but by the time we got to the other side of the river it was almost time to return.
Just another wasted summer day in the life of a teenager, but we had fun.


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