Our family including my uncle and aunt spent the summer of 1963 at Lake Ammer in Bavaria, southern Germany. Lake Ammer is the sixth largest lake in Germany. Since sailing is a popular sport there our father equipped our fold boat with sails. Our boat resembled a light weight canoe which could be folded up.
My twin brother was excited by the prospect of easy sailing instead of strenuous paddling. Boats of any kind were his passion. And he was already a very skilled model boat builder. He loved sail boats in particular. The previous summer he had learned to sail with a friend on the island of Corsica.
The weather was beautiful that summer at Lake Ammer. For the first few days of our stay the lake was still and calm like a mirror under a cloudless sky. I enjoyed the wonderful sandy beach. When I was not swimming or sun bathing, I would sit under a shade tree and read the interesting biographical novel “Lust for Life” by Irving Stone. A great read which is based on Vincent Van Gogh’s turbulent life. Vincent Van Gogh was and still is my favorite painter.
My brother was a bit disappointed that he had not been able to go sailing yet. However, that was to change on the first weekend. On a beautiful Sunday morning , Walter and I went very early to the beach. Our parents had gone on a short excursion by themselves. I was absorbed by my novel, when my brother suddenly called me. Looking up from my book I noticed lots of boats sailing gracefully close to shore on the white-capped lake. Sitting in a secluded and sheltered spot I had been protected from the wind. “Biene, do you see all those sail boats?” my brother shouted excitedly. “Let’s go and try ours.” Suddenly a cool breeze was blowing through my hair. It wasn’t very often that my brother invited me to participate in his fun activities. I quickly grabbed my towel wrapped it around my book and followed him to the water where our boat was anchored.
Walter expertly got everything ready for our first sailing adventure. To try it out, we first sailed fairly close to shore like the real sail boats in the distance. It was exhilarating to speed effortlessly through the waves. My brother felt like a captain in command. He would tell me to shift my weight occasionally from side to side. I obediently followed his commands. Normally we would argue about everything. But I had never sailed before. Imperceptibly, the wind was getting stronger and the waves higher. We were ecstatic! This was fun! Lots of other boats were sailing ahead of us along the coast line. Suddenly my brother suggested, “Why don’t we try to cross the lake? We have never been to the other side. At this speed we’ll be there in no time.” I had no objections. I loved adventures and was curious to explore the other shore.
In no time we reached the middle of the lake. “Strange”, I suddenly thought, “there are no other boats here. Why do they keep on sailing parallel to shore?” I tried to gently shift my weight to look back to our now distant beach. Suddenly there was a strong gust of wind billowing our sails. My brother frantically tried to maneuver the sails. “Sit on the edge of the boat, quick! ” he commanded sternly looking worried. Although I had reservations, I did not dare to voice an objection. I quickly lifted myself up to sit on the narrow rim of the boat, when the wind shifted again without warning. Then everything happened like in slow motion.
I see the look of horror in my brother’s face while I am gently tilted backwards into the water with the white fluttering sails tipping in my direction. I am sinking deep down into the cold water. When I finally surface I see my brother beside the capsized boat looking shocked and angry. My first reaction is a fit of hysterical laughter. “What happened?” I stupidly ask while trying to catch my breath. It all seems so unreal. “Stop laughing!” my brother yells holding on to the overturned boat. When he tells me to cry for help I am racked by another fit of laughter. “Why don’t you?” I manage to reply. “We’ll swim to shore”, I suggest. I am a strong swimmer with lots of stamina. Almost beside himself my brother shouts back, “Never!!! We have to stay with the boat” Slowly I am regaining my sanity. I am looking around trying to assess the situation. We are in the middle of the lake far from either shore. The waves are high. The water is churned up and cold. We don’t have life vests. There are no boats in sight except the sailing boats looking like miniature toys in the far distance. Suddenly panic seizes me.
Our desperate attempts to right the boat fail. The weight of the water-logged sails is beyond our strength. One of our paddles float away on the waves. My brother does not allow me to retrieve it. We continue to cling on to the boat bobbing in the waves. occasionally crying out for help which we realize is useless. Nobody can hear us. Time seems to stand still like in a bad dream. Increasing panic is gripping my heart when I look at my brother’s white horrified face. In my heart I keep on stammering, “Please, God help us, please, dear God help us….”. Almost paralyzed by augmenting fear we suddenly see a big motor boat approaching. Almost instantly our fear turns into joy. Help is on the way!!!! But our relief and joy are short lived. The big motorized yacht moves by us at great speed without stopping. Didn’t they see us? The waves are high and our overturned boat is blue. They must have missed us. This time our desperation is almost overwhelming. What shall we do? What can we do?
Numbed by cold and fear I am unable to make a decision. I am worried about my brother who looks ghastly white and is very quiet. After what seems like an eternity, we see another (or is it the same?} boat approaching from the direction it had vanished. A small flicker of hope revives us enough to start screaming on the top of our lungs for help. The big boat slowly approaches and then starts circling us. It stops! Two men climb down a ladder and grab our hands to pull us out of the water onto the deck. Two ladies wrap us in blankets and help us move into a cozy cabin to warm up and rest while the two men manage to retrieve our boat from the lake.
Our rescuers were American tourists who had initially not seen us in the water. One of the men, however, had spotted our paddle floating on the water. This miraculously prompted their search for us. Apparently we were hardly visible in the high waves and they had almost missed us again.
Luckily our parents only found out about our near drowning after we were rescued and safely returned to them. Contrary to our expectations our father did not scold us or get upset over the loss of equipment and damage to the boat. He loved adventures and was happy and proud that we survived. He commended us for staying with the boat and not try to swim ashore.
And I did not lose my “lust for life” at the bottom of the lake. I only lost the book which is easily replaceable. Thanks to God who miraculously saved us for our next adventure in the mountains,