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Stranded on the Coldest Day of the Year | A Cold Day for a Swim

“Forget it,” Phil repeated. “We’ve got to get to shore.”

A few hundred yards downshore, Phil could see two tiny figures bent over, clamming. Phil and Roger shouted and waved frantically. But the wind blew their cries out to sea like gulls. The distant men stayed bent over, hacking at the sand with their clam rakes, eventually working their way out of sight.

“We’ve got to swim,” Phil said.

“No,” Roger pleaded.

“I’m going.”

“I can’t make it,” Roger said.

Phil thought about swimming for help alone, but he knew if he tried and if Roger had to watch him drown — or worse, freeze to death on shore — that Roger would die of fear.

“We have to go together, Roger. We have to help each other.”

Roger stalled. He kept looking out to sea, hoping the boat, or some rescuer, would appear. Phil was watching the current, looking for the best place from which to jump, the spot closest to shore. They took off the boots and coats that would restrict their mobility and a couple of layers of shirts. They walked to the edge of the rocks and looked into the black water. The wind cut through their shirts and socks. Phil tensed to jump, steeling himself against the cold, against feeling. Roger looked to the shore, glanced back toward the boat. “Wait,” he said.

They put their clothes back on, waited a while. They jumped up and down to keep warm and paced from nervousness. Three times they got ready to jump. Three times they drew back. The fourth time Phil waded in up to his knees before Roger called him back. The water was rising more quickly now. The shoreline had receded another hundred yards. The longer they waited, the farther they would have to swim. Phil said, “This is it. We have to jump now.”

For the fifth time they took off their clothes and stuck them into crevices, weighted down with rocks. They also weighted down the shells they’d collected to keep them safe from the rising tide. Preparations of hope.

Roger, unexpectedly, made a joke. He remembered that he’d just signed his first life insurance policy that morning.

“We’re going to die,” Roger said suddenly, “and my wife is going to collect the cash on that insurance.” Phil laughed out loud. Roger, too, laughed, then sobered. “God, I hope she mailed that check.”

Roger knelt and prayed for strength. He hugged Phil. “You’re a good friend,” he said. “I hope you make it.” Then he looked intent. “I’m going to count to three, and you have to swear to God you’re going to jump with me.”

Phil agreed. “One,” Roger said. “Two …”

Updated Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

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