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Spragge boater credits lifejacket and Mindemoya man for saving his life in Channel boating mishap

Art Rees stands at the helm of his boat ‘Seaclusion’ in Gore Bay. A Spragge resident, Michael Leahy credits the quick thinking of Mr. Rees (of Mindemoya) and of his wearing of a lifejacket as the two factors for his not being seriously injured, or worse, in a boating mishap this past Sunday.

SPRAGGE – While he did suffer injuries in a boating mishap Sunday, a Spragge resident is lucky they weren’t far more serious thanks to his lifejacket and because of the quick-thinking reaction of a Manitoulin Island man.

“I have to agree with that assessment that if I hadn’t been wearing a lifejacket, and if not for Art (Rees) (a Mindemoya resident who is captain of the boat Seaclusion, owned by Doug Smith of Gore Bay), things could have been a whole lot worse,” stated Michael Leahy on Tuesday. “I’m not trying to be melodramatic, but it was one serious moment. I really appreciate what Art did, and that he followed up afterward to find out how I was doing was quite kind.”

Mr. Rees, who lives in Mindemoya, explained, “(Seaclusion) was tied up at the North Channel Yacht Club in Spragge dock at approximately 2 or 2:30 in the afternoon. We were there to let a friend of Doug’s (Smith) at the docks, who we had taken for a cruise this weekend, and as I was walking back to the dock where Seaclusion was when I heard a lady scream ‘Mike’ twice. It was obvious something was wrong.” 

He explained that Mr. Leahy had stepped off his sailboat and his footwear got stuck in the gunwhale, “and he ended up head first in the water, after having hit his head on Doug’s boat (which was beside Mr. Leahy’s sailboat).”

“I was getting off my boat to get a dinghy when my sandal got caught on the dock and it ended up I launched myself straight out, head first, into the hull of the other boat,” explained Mr. Leahy. “You should never use your head as a fender,” he quipped on Tuesday, adding, “when I landed in the water I was very disoriented and could see stars under the water. It was very dark and I saw bubbles from the underside of the hull of his boat.”

“Art was there along with my partner Catherine Bart,” continued Mr. Leahy. “They were there first and Art grabbed me and had a tight grip on my arm; my lifejacket was not fully clipped up, so he did that and managed to get me out of the water.” 

Mr. Rees said, “fortunately he was wearing a lifejacket, and I understand in talking to him that he always does when he is around the water. When he came up out of the water I laid on the dock, grabbed his arm, buckled up his lifejacket and was able to bring him up on the dock.” 

He stressed, “there was more than me involved in this.” There was a second person who had brought a ladder to where Mr. Leahy was in the water that made it a little easier to get him out and onto the dock. “So I pulled him up on the ladder; I had to help him all the way up because he was still a little disoriented.”

“He had quite a big bruise on his head and another large bruise on his thigh,” said Mr. Rees. 

Mr. Leahy’s partner Catherine, who is a psychologist and a registered nurse, did some minor work on his injuries before taking him to the Elliot Lake hospital.

“It was a good thing there were other people around, and that Mike didn’t end up under the boat or the dock, and most importantly that he had a lifejacket on, or there might have been a bigger problem,” said Mr. Rees, who has been boating for 45 years and knows first aid. “If not for wearing his lifejacket, things might have been different; if he had been under the dock or boat he may not have come up, and I would have had to dive in (the water) to search for him.”

“Nowadays, PFDs (personal flotation devices) are very comfortable, and they save lives,” said Mr. Rees. “It brought him up to the surface of the water in this case. We hear of cases reported in the media in which people are hurt, or perish because they are not wearing a lifejacket. The reason Mike is alive is because he was wearing a lifejacket.”

Mr. Leahy said, “I’m not sure I suffered a concussion, but I have a bad bruise on my head and a really bruised left leg, it swelled to the size of a grapefruit. At the hospital I was told by the doctor I would have pain and discomfort for a couple of days-and that has been the case.”

“Things can happen in the blink of an eye,” stated Mr. Leahy. “If not for the lifejacket and Art’s quick reaction to the accident, things could have been different.”

Mr. Leahy, who is a seasonal resident of Spragge (living in Toronto the rest of the year) said he is very comfortable wearing a lifejacket. “Sometimes people will say they don’t want to wear a lifejacket because its awkward and silly, but putting it on when you’re on the water should be second nature; it is incredibly important whether you are an adult or child.” He has been a licenced Master under the Coast Guard Auxiliary for a number of years and publishes the online GreatLakesSailing.com website. “I may have to rethink a couple of pages on the website, again stressing the importance of wearing a lifejacket after this.”