Sunday, 10 April 2016


Adventures With Bill - As I remember it. 

It’s April 10th, 2016, and it’s cold outside, -12C, with snow on the ground. It’s said that when March comes in like a lion, which it did, then it will go out like a lamb, which it hasn’t, as April looks and feels much like March. Reminds me of an April years, and years, ago. This was when I was 14 - 15 years of age...... 

It was early summer, just before summer vacation. Me, and my friend Bill, had gone to the local theatre and had seen a movie titled, "The Silent World", all about skin diving filmed and narrated by Jacques Cousteau. We were simply blown away by what we saw, and rushed out of the theatre determined to become skin divers. Now, consider that we live in Canada where it can snow up to seven months of the year. Yes, that’s right, seven months of the year. Let’s say it begins to get cold and we get snow in the middle of October that may come and go, but snow none the less, and then it comes to stay in November through to the end of March then stubbornly holds on into April. October, November, December, January, February, March, and April, that’s seven months of cold miserable weather, not the greatest environment for two teenagers, poor as churchmice to boot, to take up skin diving.

We were good swimmers partly due to the fact that living in a community with the Great Lakes, Georgian Bay to be exact, in our back yard, there wasn’t much to do during summer vacations, but fish and swim. So, that first summer we practiced hyper-ventilating and holding our breath until we almost passed out, and diving as deep as we could without any form of aid. Then one day Bill learned that there were war surplus stores in Toronto and suggested that we hitchhike down to Toronto to purchase frogman flippers and diving masks. It seemed like a good idea so we gathered up all the money that we had, and despite the fact that Toronto was almost 100 miles away, and the war surplus store was right downtown, and we had never been to Toronto before, we managed to get to Toronto where we purchased masks and flippers. It was a bit of an adventure, getting there and back in one piece, involving luck, and a lot of shoe leather. We spent the rest of the summer diving in the Bay retrieving fishing lures that fishermen had snagged on timber-cuts from the old lumber mill, which we sold at Bill’s dad’s bait shop. 

Summer came to an end, and although we continued to brave the cold weather our skin diving interest took a back seat to other activities when ice began to form around the edge of the Bay. We waited patiently throughout the winter, or at least I should say that I waited patiently. Bill on the otherhand read books about skin diving and Second World War navy frogmen, and in anticipation of an early spring set about to make a diving suit out of plastic sheeting. Using the measurements from his jeans and a shirt he cut evrything a bit oversize, then ironed the seams sealing everything together. 

Spring came late that year. The ice out on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay proper broke up to allow shipping to resume, but the ice in the small bays such as the Midland harbour was slow to leave. At the beginning of April the shipping companies that had docked their ships in the Midland harbour became tired of waiting and an icebreaker was sent in to free the ships. The ships got up steam and were manoeuvred to the elevators to unload their grain stores, and the ice in the harbour began to quickly break up leaving stretches of open water. Bill was beside himself. It was time to test his diving suit.

We chose a place close to a pier at the Winter Berth, and despite there being large pieces of ice floating about Bill donned his homemade plastic wet suit, his mask and flippers, and prepared to enter the water. A long rope was tied around his waiste just in case there was a problem, Bill was confident, however, that the suit would work and there would be no problem. Bill jumped into the water, went under, and then quickly rose to the surface with a big smile on his face. And then, the smile disappeared. Bill signalled by frantically waving his hands to pull him out of the water. The suit had failed, and was quickly filling with ice cold water. I hauled on the rope!  But it was too late. Bill disappeared under the icy water and was never seen again…….

Okay, okay, don't get excited, I was just being dramatic. Bill didn't disappear under the icy water, but he could have had it not been for me pulling on the rope, and Bill spurred on by the icy cold water managing to clamber up the pier out of the icy water.  Once on top of the pier he stripped off the failed diving suit releasing gallons of ice cold water, strip off most of his wet clothes, and somehow avoided hypothermia. He was silent for a long while then donning his wet clothes, and picking up his failed diving suit, mask, and flippers, he went off home mumbling something about trying to figure out what went wrong. Before he disappeared down the trail I yelled out that I thought that it had been a good idea, and then more to myself than to Bill said that I thought that I’d wait until summer to resume skin diving.

So you see April doesn’t always herald warmer weather, showers maybe to encourage May flowers. No, up our way you don’t put away the snow shovel until you hear the sound of lawnmowers and choke on the smell  of gasoline on Saturday mornings.

Spring Flower - Trilliums - Watercolour Painting

Field of Daisies    Watercolour Painting

No comments:

Post a Comment