Video from Weymouth Lifeboat
Unfortunately, a huge sea kayak group from a local canoe club got into major difficulties in the Portland Race yesterday. This is the strongest and most extensive tidal race in the south west, forming off the headland of Portland Bill. The tidal race is particularly awkward as it generates massive back eddies running down the sides of the headland, which can make escape from The Race difficult if you do not time your passage precisely.
Multiple helicopters and lifeboats were summoned to assist the sixteen paddlers from Upper Hamble Canoe Club. Thankfully, reports seem to indicate that all were safely rescued and are unharmed.
I have collated news reports on the SWSK Facebook group… www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=139419152740954
The report below is from the Dorset Echo…
SIXTEEN kayak instructors are lucky to be alive after being plucked to safety in a dramatic rescue operation off Portland.
The experienced group were swept into the notorious Portland Race as they attempted to paddle around the Bill as darkness fell yesterday evening.
The Race is a fierce area of sea caused by a combination of tides and shelving seabed.
But a disaster was averted thanks to a slick rescue involving Weymouth’s two lifeboats, two rescue helicopters, coastguard teams and the HM Customs patrol boat Valiant.
All 16 kayakers were safely picked up unharmed by lifeboat crews. A man and a woman were later airlifted to Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester suffering from shock and seasickness.
The lifeboats also managed to retrieve every kayak from the water.
The kayakers, coaches and instructors attached to the Upper Hamble Canoe Club in Southampton, did not want to comment as they were brought ashore and checked over by paramedics at Portland Marina last night.
They had set off from Portland Castle earlier in the day and made their way around the island to Chesil Cove before making the return journey in the afternoon. The group were equipped with radios and lifejackets and had notified coastguards of their trip.
Portland Coastguard received a mayday call just before 4pm as members of the group started getting into difficulty and become separated from each other.
Members ‘rafted’ their kayaks together in different groups and waited for help. All stayed afloat despite the violent seas.
Lifeboats arrived to find the sea lit up by searchlights from the Portland and Solent coastguard helicopters and from Valiant, making the recovery operation easier.
Philip Chappell of Portland Coastguard said: “The first mayday call we got was from a woman who was hysterical.
“It was only on the second mayday call that we were able to confirm a position and get resources out there.”
He added: “Happily, all 16 were taken from the water safely but it so easily could have gone the other way.
“We could have had a horrendous situation here last night.
“They got into trouble in an area which is the fiercest tidal race on the south coast.
“We’ve had big powerboats come to grief in the Race so you can imagine what it would do to a kayak.
“A combination of tides and geography create a one-sided whirlpool.
“Questions need to be asked about expedition planning and timings.”
Coxswain of Weymouth Lifeboat Andy Sargent said that the operation had been very successful and that he was proud of his crew.
He said: “It was a trip that went wrong.
“There was a mayday put out to request a launch, saying that there were 16 kayaks in difficulty. A rescue helicopter was on scene first and saw that no one was in the water, they were rafted up in their kayaks.
“The inshore lifeboat went to rescue three kayaks that had become separated.
“Once we had recovered everyone to the all weather lifeboat we set about recovering the kayaks.
“I’m very pleased with the job, we got everyone back and the kayaks too.”
He added: “One of the kayakers was in shock and so after ten minutes she was airlifted by the rescue helicopter to Dorset County Hospital. Another kayaker was suffering from seasickness so he was also airlifted.”
South West Ambulance set up a medical check point at Portland Marina and the lifeboat brought the kayakers into the harbour at 6.30pm.
They were checked over by the ambulance service and given tea and coffee by nearby restaurant, The Boat That Rocks, before they went home.