On June 4, 1985, grit or persistence came to my rescue.

Thrown headfirst into the water after losing control of his small boat in June 1985, Roland Beaudoin made it to the back side of Mackworth Island, above, in about 2½ hours, swimming against the tide. John Patriquin/Staff Photographer, File

My small motorized 14-foot boat was anchored at Falmouth Town Landing. My plan was to take a ride into Portland Harbor and putter around. The local harbormaster was a retired Coast Guardsman; for some reason, when I arrived, he described how bodies looked when he retrieved drowning victims. After that discussion, off I went; a couple of enjoyable hours later, it was time to return home.

On my way back the wind picked up as it usually did in the early afternoon. Somewhere about halfway between Fort Gorges and home, I lost control of my boat and was thrown headfirst into the water. When I surfaced, I couldn’t believe what had happened and where I was. Foolishly, I was not wearing a life jacket. There were no other boats in sight.

After unsuccessfully trying to reach my boat, which was moving in a circle but then headed to land, my choices were to swim to Fort Gorges or to Mackworth Island near my home. I still could see no other boats, and since I doubted that anyone would find me on abandoned Fort Gorges, I headed for Mackworth.

I’m not a great swimmer, so the journey was much more difficult than expected. The water was cold, with modest waves, and the tide was flowing against me. My conversation with the harbormaster came to mind, and I made sure my back pocket was buttoned with my wallet and license inside so I could be identified. There were a few moments when I did not think I would make it to shore. Of course, most of my thoughts and motivation to continue the struggle were with my wife and 3-year-old and 7-month-old sons.

I made it to shore on the back side of Mackworth after about 2½ hours. Bird watchers on Mackworth saw me struggling while swimming and called 911 as well as doing their best to keep me warm. When I reached shore I was delirious and nearly unconscious. What happened thereafter until I woke up in Maine Medical Center’s emergency room was told to me by my wife and others.

Our home was on Andrews Avenue, the road that actually leads out to Mackworth Island. My wife heard the ambulance sirens go by on the way to my rescue. Somehow, she immediately knew that I was in trouble. She brought our sons to neighbors and then headed for the emergency room.

Meanwhile, the ambulance crew could not carry me up the steep cliff on Mackworth. A Maine Marine Patrol boat was called, and I was transported across the harbor to Commercial Street and then taken to Maine Med by ambulance. This took some time so my wife actually arrived at the emergency room before me!

After a week in the hospital with hypothermia and aspiration pneumonia, and a visit from the helpful bird watchers, I went home a changed man. I took a different career path with a better appreciation for everything in my life. Even today, when faced with a challenge, I think back to the grit summoned that day and the effort needed to make it back to my family.

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