Michael Beaudoin at his home on Cliff Island, with Jewell Island seen in the distance. Beaudoin nearly died when his kayak capsized off Jewell Island last month. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

It was 8 a.m. on June 24.

Michael Beaudoin, 79, launched his blue solo kayak from the wharf at Cliff Island and began a morning paddle in the calm water. Nearby, Heath MacVane showed Matt Moon how to haul lobster traps up from the depths. Miles away on the mainland, Dr. Ming Wang started his day by riding his bike from his home in South Portland to Maine Medical Center, where he sometimes works in the emergency department.

Later that morning, a swell would capsize Michael’s kayak. Heath and Matt would find him clinging to the boat, hypothermic and barely conscious after nearly an hour in Casco Bay. That afternoon, he would wake up in Maine Medical Center under the care of Dr. Wang.

Michael’s memories of that day, the ones he doesn’t want to revisit in the middle of the night, are of being alone in the open ocean. He doesn’t remember the hands that pulled him from the water or the ones that loaded him onto a stretcher or the ones that wrapped him in blankets in the emergency room. But he knows he survived because of the people who were in the right place when he was in the wrong one, the friends and strangers who came to his aid.


As he set out under a blue sky, Michael recalls waving to Heath and Matt on the lobster boat.


“It sure is a perfect day for kayaking,” he remembers thinking to himself.


Michael and his wife, Molly Morell, woke up early that day.

They split their summers between a condo in Falmouth and a cottage on the east side of Cliff Island. They have been married for 38 years. Now retired, they both worked in higher education, she most recently at the University of Southern Maine and he at the University of New England.

Michael Beaudoin and his wife, Molly Morell, at their home on Cliff Island. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

They bought their cottage more than 20 years ago. The inside is decorated with Michael’s running trophies and Molly’s paintings. White shells sit in a line on the deck, and a paddle leans against the side of the house. Their days here are peaceful: Molly reads on the deck and paints and works at the island library; Michael runs and kayaks and does DIY repairs on the property, which is more than a century old.

On June 24, Michael was planning to kayak. Molly considered sleeping in. Instead, they ate breakfast together, a moment she would remember later when she was speeding toward the hospital in a water taxi. As always, when he set out, he had told her his course and estimated return time. She did the dishes and settled in to read until he got back.


Michael walked to the wharf on the west side of the island and launched his kayak. He wore a life jacket with a whistle, but carried nothing else. The water was almost flat, no chop at all. It was nearly high tide. He cruised around the southern end of Cliff and headed east for neighboring Jewell.

Beyond Jewell Island is open ocean. At the island’s southern tip, Michael knew to be wary even on a calm day, and he paused for a minute to observe the undulating sea. But when he made for home, a rogue swell still caught him off guard.

“I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “It just immediately, without any warning, flipped me.”

His first feeling was annoyance at the prospect of a soggy return trip.

“Like, damn, what a nuisance,” he said.

He managed to keep hold of his kayak and his paddle, and his life jacket kept him afloat. The cockpit of the kayak was full of water. He tried to get back in using every maneuver he could think of from four decades of experience, but nothing was working. So he tried to swim the 200 meters to Jewell’s shore with his kayak in tow, but that desperate attempt only served to kick off a shoe before he was too tired to continue. There were no boats in sight.


“It went from being a nuisance to a challenge to a real threat,” he said.

In June, the water temperature in Casco Bay is in the 50s. Without protective clothing like a wetsuit, you start to lose dexterity after 10 to 15 minutes in water that cold. You could become exhausted or lose consciousness after an hour, drowning without a flotation device. Michael was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and shorts, and he remembers thinking he would not last much longer as he began to fade out.

Michael Beaudoin at his home on Cliff Island on Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Michael has spent the weeks since considering what it meant to come so close to death, and he has written more than 3,000 words. As his consciousness flagged, he thought about Molly and the years they planned to spend together still, and he came to his own version of a famous line from the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

“What do people typically think about in those final moments?” Michael wrote. “The conventional assumption is that one’s life, however lived, flashes before you. In my own case, it was the life left to live that I contemplated. … I seem to recall a persistent inner voice telling me: ‘Hang on, do not go gently into that dark, deep sea.’ ”


Heath MacVane grew up on Cliff Island and started lobstering as a kid.


He lives in Yarmouth now but in the summer spends as much time as possible on the island. He also still has about 300 traps near Cliff. When he goes out on his boat – the Casey Z, named for his wife – he usually starts around 6 a.m. On June 24, his friend Matt Moon had asked to come along for the day and see his operation firsthand. Matt is a teacher at Old Orchard Beach High School and a fellow dad from Yarmouth; they know each other from the sideline of soccer games.

Lobsterman Heath MacVane on Cliff Island. MacVane and a friend rescued Michael Beaudoin after his kayak capsized off Jewell Island last month. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Heath doesn’t remember spotting Michael setting out in his kayak that morning, but he’s a friendly guy, someone who seems to know everyone on the island and greets them all with a smile. Heath and Michael have known each other for years and sometimes have been running partners.

“Introvert,” Heath said to describe Michael. “Friendly, serious. Seems like an intellectual to me.”

Heath and Matt chatted and hauled traps. Heath is a former teacher, and they talked about a short story called “The Ledge” by the late Bowdoin professor Lawrence Sargent Hall based on a real event that occurred not far from Cliff Island. In the story, a man becomes stranded while duck hunting with his son and nephew on a ledge in the ocean. They are left to wait for the tide that will ultimately swallow their rocky perch and them with it.

Near the south end of Jewell, Heath noticed a blue object in the water, the same color as a bait barrel used on fishing boats but sticking out at an odd angle. They approached on the boat and realized it was a kayak. Michael was clinging rigidly to the bow, weighing it down into the water, unresponsive when Heath called his name. Frantic, they hauled him onto the Casey Z. Heath called the Coast Guard on his radio, while Matt tried to warm him.

“He was shaking,” Matt said. “He was having these full body spasms of pain. He would go through these cycles, his whole body would seize up and rattle like he was in a torture chamber, like wracked with pain. He cried out for help a few times, and I tried to explain to him that he was safe, that we had him.”


He held Michael in his arms, gripped his hands, looked directly into his eyes.

Matt Moon of Yarmouth helped rescue Michael Beaudoin after his kayak capsized off Jewell Island last month. He was on his friend’s lobster boat when they discovered Michael Beaudoin in the water. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Everything gets stripped away in a moment when you realize somebody is on the edge,” Matt said. “Nothing matters. We would have driven that boat as far as we needed to go to save Michael. I was just holding this other human being, trying to preserve a life.”

The boat was 30 minutes from Portland. Heath sped toward the city and met a Coast Guard boat near the harbor. An ambulance was waiting at the Maine State Pier. The crew loaded Michael onto a stretcher and rushed across the city to Maine Medical Center.


On her deck on Cliff Island, Molly was worried.

Michael was supposed to be home by 9:15. Fifteen minutes passed, then 30 minutes. She grabbed her binoculars to scan the familiar face of Jewell in the distance but could not see Michael approaching in his kayak as he should have been. Another five minutes, then another.


She called 911.

“Every time he goes out far away in the boat, I’m always going to be looking at the time,” she said. “I guess what I thought was, ‘Is this going to be the time something happens?’ And then it was the time something happened.”

Eventually, a Portland police officer called her to say her husband had been pulled from the water and was on his way to Maine Med. Molly tried to dial the number for a water taxi but was too distraught. She ran to the Cliff Island Store, next to the ferry wharf.

Owner Hope MacVane-Tray was behind the register.

Hope MacVane-Tray behind the counter at the Cliff Island Store. MacVane-Tray was at the store on the morning Michael Beaudoin had his kayaking accident and helped his wife, Molly Morell, get to the hospital in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Hope is Heath’s sister and worked at the store while growing up on the island. Now her family spends the summer selling sandwiches and essential groceries to islanders and tourists. She keeps a whiteboard on the wall with the heading “Ice Cream Fairy,” on which people can gift scoops to their friends.

Molly told Hope she needed to get off the island, and Hope took over. She called Fogg’s Water Taxi and arranged a ride, sat her down with some water, gave her a hug. When Molly didn’t know how she was going to get from the waterfront to the hospital, someone from the water taxi company drove her to the emergency room.


Hope didn’t hear until later that her brother was the one to pull Michael out of the water. But Heath and Hope both insist that anyone in the island community would have done what they did.

“I have found that if someone needs help out here, everyone rallies to be there and help in any way they can,” Hope said.

“Everybody’s thanking me as if I did something,” Heath said. “I didn’t do anything. Anybody that came across him is going to help him in that situation, that’s all.”


Dr. Ming Wang likes to surf all year long in the ocean. When he starts to feel the cold through his wetsuit or loses sensation in his hands and feet, he will pause to consider where he is on the spectrum of hypothermia.

Dr. Ming Wang Photo courtesy of MaineHealth

When Michael arrived in the emergency department, his body temperature was at 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit. That put him right on the line between moderately and severely hypothermic. Dr. Wang, who spoke about that day with Michael’s permission, remembered how he and a nurse looked at the temperature and decided to take it again because it was so low, it could have been a mistake. It was not.


“He was not shivering, which is a bad sign,” Dr. Wang said. “When you shiver, you raise your body temperature. … Once you get cold enough, the muscles stop working.”

What came next, he said, was a team effort of nurses, physicians and other medical staff. They warmed the fluids for his IV and wrapped him in a machine called a bear hugger that circulates warm air around the entire body. (Molly said it looked like he was encased in bubble wrap. Dr. Wang described it as “a really fancy electric blanket.”)

Over the next four hours, the team brought Michael’s temperature up to normal, and he became alert enough to talk with them and, of course, with Molly. He stayed the night at the hospital and was allowed to go home the next day. Dr. Wang said he and the staff felt good about his successful outcome. They see more hypothermia patients in the winter, he said, but Maine’s beautiful summer days often make people forget that the water is still cold.

“With all the press the sharks have been getting, this is much more likely to be the danger,” he said.


Michael’s experience was profoundly personal, something only he truly lived through. But he has tried to count the people who played some part in the day: Heath and Matt. The crews of the Coast Guard in the harbor and the ambulance on land. The team in the emergency room at Maine Med and the ones who cared for him once he stabilized. Hope at the island store and the staff of the water taxi company, who got Molly where she needed to be.


Heath and Matt returned to the traps after the rescue, working quietly and occasionally talking. Matt spent time that evening Googling Michael, trying to learn more about the stranger who he feared would die in his arms. They visited Molly and Michael at the cottage this week, and Matt got to meet Michael properly. They hugged and talked about that day and the book Michael is reading now (about people who have survived near-death experiences on Mount Everest).

The view of Casco Bay and the southern tip of Jewell Island from the home of Michael Beaudoin and Molly Morell on Cliff Island. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A couple of days after his ordeal, Michael got back in his kayak. He has since made the short crossing to Jewell but not to the open end where he capsized. He plans to order some additional safety equipment, and views his experience as a cautionary tale for even the most experienced paddlers. Molly was nervous to see him get back in his boat but glad he had not lost his sense of adventure.

“Despite this event, I wouldn’t want him to stop doing these things,” she said. “These are the things he loves to do and it’s just who he is, and I need to sort of recognize that.”

Michael said he doesn’t feel the need to start a bucket list or change his life dramatically. He just feels grateful. They will celebrate his 80th birthday in September with their traditional lobsters and a little party. Every day, he thinks to himself, “It’s a good day to be alive.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.