Day at the beach turns into rescue effort

Published on July 29, 2014

We are vacationing in Summerside with my parents, who drove from Ottawa, while we drove with our two daughters from Sydney, N.S. 

Saturday, we headed over to Malpeque and Cabot Beach Provincial Park and Beach. It is a wonderful spot, clean and uncrowded with all the amenities, especially for the kids. The day was not without excitement.

There were about 30 teenagers (14 to 16 years of age) who went to an island (Fish Island) about three kilometres off the coast in kayaks for an overnight camping trip Friday. They returned Saturday.

Unfortunately, the breeze had changed direction and was blowing directly into their path. What should have been an easy one-hour paddle turned into a harrowing three-to-four-hour ordeal.

The kayakers’ goal was our beach, so we could see their progress, the stronger paddlers arriving in groups of two or three.

We all became alarmed as we saw the last few groups growing more distant as they lost ground to the wind. Some of the later paddlers arrived in tears and in shock, totally exhausted.

The beach lifeguard phoned the Coast Guard to alert them that some of the kayakers might not be able to make it. My husband, Tom, who recently became a member of the Sydney Search and Rescue Team and is a volunteer firefighter, decided to spring into action.

He brought his Hobie Kayak (which can be pedalled as well as paddled) from the parking lot and after informing the beach lifeguards of his credentials, set off to rescue the last four kayakers, who by this time were two to three kilometres offshore.

Two of the boats were making some headway. Two others appeared too exhausted to paddle. When Tom reached them some were in shock and unresponsive. He could not get one of the kayakers to even hang on to the rope that Tom gave him to be towed back.

By doubling back around the unresponsive boy, and with the help of one of the girl kayakers, he secured a rope to the back of the boy's kayak in fairly choppy seas with large swells and white caps, and towed him backwards and the girl kayaker forwards back to our beach.

In the meantime, the lifeguards had notified the Coast Guard that the situation was worsening and a patrol aircraft came overhead numerous times keeping track of the rescue. A Coast Guard boat was also being dispatched, but was still at least 30 minutes away.

Fortunately, all ended well as all five boats returned to shore. Tom's actions definitely averted a very serious potential tragedy. It was windy on shore, but deceptively worse on the water.

Fresh Malpeque oysters and smoked salmon are now (later in the day Saturday) being consumed in Summerside in celebration of our hero's deeds.


Bettina Callary

Sydney, N.S.