The Missing Canoeist

It was one of those rare summer days in Wales when everything is perfect. Overhead the blue sky had some fluffy white cumulus clouds and it was a time when a Spring high tide occurred in the afternoon. Sandy Haven creek was filled to brimming with clear green water which at these times is 18 feet deep over the crabbing bridge. There was not a breath of air and the water was glass smooth and the reflected sunlight off the surface made us very warm and sleepy. Altogether a perfect day for family boating in Sandy Haven pill or creek. My family at the time consisted of my wife and three young children (the fourth had not yet arrived). Youngest was our son Matthew on whom the story centres who was coming up to being just 3 years old at the time (today a big fellow of 30 years who is building this website). Such a perfect day made it ideal to take our children canoeing along the 1.4 mile long Sandy Haven tidal creek with woodland on either side behind which were rolling emerald-green fields with brown cows either munching the summer grass or contentedly lying down in the sun chewing the cud. So we took three canoes down to the beach, plus our wooden mirror dinghy with oars and life-jackets for everyone. On such days my wife likes to swim in the creek but the strong current of the incoming spring tide carries her a long way up the creek. So I would follow along in the dinghy and take her aboard when she had cooled sufficiently. Our three children, each in a canoe, accompanied us. We were somewhere around the right angled bend in the middle of the creek when high tide was reached and there is about 30 or 40 minutes of slack water where nothing moves. In this area is the wreck of an old sailing ship and at these times one can float over the top of it and look down at the long timbers. Eventually the sea will start draining back out of the creek and all the moored boats at the lower end of the creek will obediently swing around so that their moored bows then point up the creek.

The trick with a family of young children is to be carried up the creek in the hour before high water, then enjoy the slack water, and finally return down the creek on the outgoing tide. These things we did on this day. We were enjoying the warmth and the slack water with the creek absolutely brim full with a surface oily smooth without a ripple apart from those that we made. There was nobody else in the creek that day and we had it to ourselves with just the birds for company. Our daughter enjoyed hiding her canoe amongst the leafy tree branches that at high tide just touched the surface of the sea water. They reach out for 30 to 40 feet from the trunks. She liked to paddle inside the branches where she could not be seen amongst the leaves. Then when we or one of her brothers approached would burst out from hiding paddling at high speed. However our youngest son was only about three years old and not strong enough to keep up the paddling in the slack water. We had rowed up alongside him and tied his canoe on a rope to the stern of our dinghy. The canoes were covered and have a central cockpit (this was before fibreglass kayaks were invented). The young fellow was sitting in the cockpit holding his double bladed paddle and wearing a life jacket. My wife and I were certainly not alert and were drowsy in the heat. We sat in the centre of the dinghy enjoying some picnic and talking. The two older children were easily visible in their brightly coloured canoes. It was very quiet. I had not heard any sounds from our youngest son for quite a while, but was not worried as his canoe was tied to our boat.

I glanced behind me at his canoe and was shocked to see that it was empty. The paddle was laid across the open cockpit and his life-jacket was propped up inside the cockpit, but nowhere was there any sign of him. This came as a great shock as I could not believe we could lose him without any sound only a few feet from us. A quick look around the water surface revealed nobody in the water. I called to my wife and pulled the canoe alongside to examine it. Once the canoe was alongside and we could look down into the cockpit, we were much relieved and highly amused to find our young son inside his canoe but stretched out flat on the bottom and fast asleep. It seemed he had fallen asleep in the warmth and then slipped down inside his life jacket onto the bottom of the canoe and then let go of his paddle that was left balanced across the canoe. We had a good laugh and did not wake him up. However for a minute there is had been a great shock to find we still had the canoe in tow but a missing canoeist.

– John Roobol


Comments are closed.