‘Let's make it a real swim, something never done before'
By Herb Peppard
It was a glorious sunny day in July, 1956. The shimmering water of the Northumberland Strait seemed to beckon a person to dive in.
Two young men stood on Amet beach that summer and gazed out at this inviting expanse of ocean water. They were both Truro natives - David Bartlett, 21, and Donnie Bailey, 23.
Amet beach is a beautiful stretch of sand about half-way between Tatamagouche and River John. As you look out across the water three features meet your eyes. To the left is Brule Point, on the right is Cape John and in the center on the horizon is a little body of land called Amet Island.
Well, David and Donnie wanted to take a swim. They wanted this to be a memorable day. They wanted an adventure.
"Let's swim over to Brule Point," Donnie suggested, and Dave was in full agreement.
These boys were good swimmers. However, they were not professional swimmers. They swam for the love of it and the thrill of battling the waves. They started swimming toward Brule Point and Dave recently told me the water was just like "warm milk."
They didn't go very far when they changed direction.
"Let's make it a real swim, something never done before," said Donnie. "Let's go all the way to Amet Island!"
David, as usual, was game for any adventure so he agreed. However, both of them must have had their doubts. Their parents didn't know of this dangerous adventure their sons were going on, the island was 10 kilometres away, they had no boat to accompany them, they didn't wear any body grease for the cold and they wore no glasses or flippers! However, nothing was going to stop them from reaching that tiny speck of land in the ocean - Amet Island.
As David swam along he gazed at this buddy with a little twinge of envy. Donnie was a natural swimmer, a born swimmer. Every stroke was calm and effortless. He was just built to be a swimmer.
On the other hand, David maybe couldn't swim as well as Donnie, but he had something many people do not have - strength and, more importantly, endurance. David credits much of his strength to his love and dedication to the sport of weightlifting and bodybuilding.
As the swimmers journeyed further into the channel the water got colder. Still, they continued stroke after stroke to reach their goal.
Mosher MacPhee, who had a cottage at the beach, became concerned about Dave and Donnie's safety. He sat at his cottage watching them using his binoculars. After a while he was worried if the boys would make it. He called a friend who had a boat and asked him to go out and check on them.
The boat owner, a friendly person, went out and tried to encourage the boys to get into the boat and be "rescued." However, Dave and Donnie only had one goal in mind and that was to reach that elusive island on the horizon. And so MacPhee returned to shore empty-handed.
At last the swimmers were approaching the island. There was no habitation on this island. There was just an unmanned lighthouse that was checked periodically.
Dave told me that as they approached the island the current became very strong and it became more difficult to reach their goal. And there were many seals swimming around them. They swam around and underneath Dave and he wondered if there were any sharks in the area.
Dave and Donnie had planned to stop at the island and rest. However, they changed their minds when they discovered what difficulties they had to face. First, there was a very heavy current which brought waves that smashed up against the shore. Then, there were the birds ¬- thousands of gulls. They had left piles of droppings and an odour that would make your eyes water. Of course, this was the result of an accumulation over a period of many years.
And so, there was no rest for these men of adventure. They had no choice but to head back to Amet beach. And they did make it back. They must have been dead tired, but they never gave up.
Dave Bartlett, who now lives in Hilden, and Donnie Bailey, who died a year ago, left on their swim at 9:20 a.m. and touched land at 7:30 p.m. that evening. Both would go on to work in the railway industry. Bailey also spent some time in the navy while Bartlett sold pet food for many years.
I often thought how many people are brave enough to defy death and never ever brag about it? I know two fellows who did. David Bartlett and Donnie Bailey.
TAGLINE: Herb Peppard has lived most of his life in Truro. He has spent many summer evenings watching the sunset over the Northumberland Strait.