Archive for the ‘Incidents’ Category
Just found this magazine article in an old folder. It dates from 2005 and was published in the now defunct ‘Playboating’ magazine. It describes an unpleasant incident whilst exploratory river running in Bolivia. The rest of the expedition was much more successful and enjoyable, thankfully.
(first published in ‘Playboating’ Magazine)
Seven of us in a gorge on a difficult and exotic river. Clear water, big boulders, steep. We are experienced, skilled, sharp, focused. Loving it.
We stop above a horizon-line. Inspection reveals two routes, separated by a midstream rock. River left plunges off a three metre waterfall into a walled-in stopper, which can’t be protected. Nearer to us on river right, a powerful current piles against a rock and forms a sticky stopper. I make my choice quickly; the river right channel. My creek boat powers through cleanly and I break out on the river left bank, twenty metres downstream. I look back and see Andy appear on the lip of the river left waterfall; he has opted for the necky line. But he’s in the wrong place, above the worst towback. He grinds to a halt on the shallow lip, and can’t boof. He slides off completely vertically. He vanishes.
I wait a few seconds, expecting to see him backloop up and get a working. Nothing happens. Seconds more. I am out of my boat onto a rock. I now assume that Andy will pop up swimming, and begin unbuckling my waist throwline. Nothing happens. Nothing appears. Our mate is drowning.
Simon appears on a rock on the opposite bank, nearer to the spot where Andy vanished. By frantic pointing and shouting, I indicate that Andy is underwater. Due to the river right channel and central rock, Simon can’t see or get close to the spot. Only I have line of sight, and there is no way I can paddle up to it. I throw my rope, but its hopelessly out of range.
I attempt climbing along the cliffed opposite bank to the waterfall, but its not possible. Simon starts throwing his line over the centre rock; despite not being able to see where he is aiming, he lands it right on the mark first and every time. Nothing happens.
I stare harder at the point where Andy vanished, and I think I understand what has happened. There is a particularly violent boil just below the fall at this point, presumably formed by a large shallow rock. Andy will be under that rock. Time is running out. He’s a strong bloke, if anyone can fight his way out it’s him. But nothing happens.
By now, Simon has gathered everyone on the rock opposite. Every few seconds, throwlines are rhythmically landing on the spot where Andy vanished and are being drawn back in again. I’m the only person in a position to see the whole scene, but I’m unable to participate. I have never felt so useless in my long useless life.
I can tell that the rescue team are flagging slightly; presumably each one is privately pondering the futility of continuing what they are doing. My eyes meet Simon’s across the river. We both shake our heads imperceptibly; we have paddled together long enough to understand one another instantly.
Staring at the fall, I spot something new moving behind it; it is Andy’s kayak, getting dragged into the fall from behind and bobbing on end. I deduce that it has freed from whatever siphon it was trapped in, and that Andy’s body may still be in it. I point and shout what I can see. The answer comes back, “Can you see Andy?”; I shake my head. However, the rescue team seem revitalised, throwing their lines with renewed vigour to where I am pointing, right into the fall this time.
Its taken me a lifetime to think of it, but I am now tying my spare throwline to the original line. I fumble the knot and can’t focus; filling my mind, blotting out all rational thought, is the fact that I’ve just watched a mate drown.
One of the lines snags on something and goes taut. They all haul, and as if by magic, Andy’s boat slowly emerges. As it swings out downstream, it begins to roll upright. I am moving towards my boat, ready to paddle out and retrieve its contents. I am trying desperately to recall the CPR sequence; was it three or four breathes first? But the cockpit is empty. I literally see everyones shoulders slump.
I am climbing into my boat. I shout my intentions across to the others; I’m going to search for about a mile downstream for the body. But they shout back for me to hold on, to wait. They are newly animated and throwing lines more frenetically than ever. They know something.
Another rope goes taut. They haul, and a very familiar red helmet pops up on the end of it. Andy is alive, clinging to the rope and swimming vigorously. My eyes cannot believe what I am seeing. As he swings into the view of the others, they cheer loudly. As soon as he is safely at the bank, I turn away and burst into uncharacteristic tears. When finally I get a grip on myself, I can see I am not alone; others have their heads in their hands, shoulders racked. Our mate is alive.
The only person not particularly fazed was Andy himself. Unlike the rest of us, he never for a moment believed he had died! He misjudged his lead-in to the waterfall and was pushed offline. He buried deep into the drop, but instead of pinning under rocks as we assumed, he popped up alongside his boat in a tiny cave hidden behind the fall. For a while he was thrashed around in this room of doom. Eventually he spotted a log jammed in the airspace above his head, and recalled that he had a sling and krab in his BA pocket. Clipping himself to the log, he was stabilised and (apparently) quite comfortable. He tried to push his paddles through the fall to attract attention, but couldn’t reach. Instead, he pushed his boat into the fall repeatedly (which I saw) and in due course, ropes began to land within reach. After a few close misses he managed to grab one and clipped it onto his boat; he wanted to watch his boat and check that the route out was safe first. When the others hauled out the boat, they – realising that dead men don’t use krabs – knew Andy was alive.
In all honesty? We have no idea what the lessons to be learned from this incident are. Draw your own. We simply pray that in your entire boating lives, you never ever have to experience an eight minutes as unpleasant as this. But if you do, we pray that it ends as ours did. Thats all.
“I never thought I’d say it Andy, but I’m actually quite glad to see you”.
This morning I watched a pair of paddlers leave Swanage and head out through the tide race at Peveril Point. With half an hour spare, I headed up to the castle at Durlston Head and watched them paddle through the bigger tide race at Durlston Head, out onto the exposed section of coast. About a mile offshore, the coastguard helicopter was in action, going to the aid of what looked like a dive RIB. Hope all involved are safe and well.
Heather and I had been stuck on the island of Rousay for three nights straight, waiting for the wind to drop. We were getting frustrated with our wait to head up into the North Isles of Orkney. One evening we returned to the tent and found that the wind had dropped…
Within an hour we’d packed the boats and were on the water, paddling across some surprisingly fast tides. The plan was to cross to Eday, a large island about five miles away. We pretty much continually surfed across standing waves for the first few miles. Things crept up on us; the wind cranked up behind us (against the tide), the waves steepened and roughened dramatically, and before we knew it, we were in full whitewater mode. By the time we realised how much we had extended ourselves, we were too far from Rousay to return easily, but nowhere near our intended destination. Our saving grace was a tiny uninhabited island called Muckle Green Holm which was located in mid-stream of these powerful flows. We were relieved to break out and take stock, in the huge churning eddies behind this island.
We couldn’t continue our crossing to Eday without taking on some fairly mad conditions; although it was only another mile or two, the next set of tide races (ominously known as the ‘Fall of Warness’) were frankly huge, and were surging and breaking hard. The route back was now similarly closed to us, and the tide was too strong for us to paddle north upstream against it. Escaping south with the tide wasn’t too promising either, due to the screaming headwind. On top of all that, the light was fading. We made the decision to land and camp on Muckle Green Holm, not ideal as we’d barely brought enough fresh water for a pot of tea with us! If we ended up stuck on MGH by the wind, we would be in big trouble.
Landing wasn’t straightforward, as the east side of MGH was rimmed by cliffs. We later discovered that there is a rocky beach on the NW side, but could not access this side of the island due to the strength of the tide flow. We eddyhopped up to the northern tip, where we were amazed to watch seals bodysurfing the standing wave created where the tide poured over a ledge. We considered climbing and hauling the boats up a muddy gulley from a geo, but eventually we found an better option; the rising tide made it possible to access the gradually sloping reefs on the southern tip of the island, where we were able to beach and unload.
Shipwrecked! The good news is that the next morning dawned calm and clear, so we were able to escape before our water ran out. Even so, the tides beat us again. We launched precisely on slack tide, yet still failed to make it direct to Eday, a mere mile away. Within 15-20 minutes of slack water, the tide was too strong for us to hold position, and we gave up trying to ferry across; we rode the tide north instead. We later learned that the spring flows we tackled commonly exceed 8 mph. A glance at a map of the Orkney Isles will reveal that this channel is basically a northerly cousin of the notorious Pentland Firth, but all of this wisdom was only gained in hindsight. I guess the clue was the experimental tidal power generator located in mid-flow…
Oh yes, Muckle Green Holm itself. It wasn’t ugly, and we weren’t alone. Aside from the hundreds of seals and the long neglected sheep (with ludicrously overgrown wool hanging to the ground), we were happy to make acquaintance with the innumerable shags, a small handful of whom are depicted here.
Here’s an account of my crossing to the island of Islay this summer, which was previously posted and discussed on UKRGB.
Several ways to end your days – an ill advised open crossing
Just thought I’d relate an interesting experience I had earlier in the summer – my crossing from the mainland to the island of Islay. Although this should have been straightforward, it proved to be my toughest ever crossing physically and more pertinently, most dangerous. I’ll summarise what happened and allow folk to draw their own conclusions as to why it was such a poor showing on my behalf.
The distance was about 14 miles (I think I did 16+ in the end), which I personally saw as no issue – I have done many much longer crossings, sometimes involving strong tides, which were not present here. However, I’d only been in a boat a handful of times in the previous month and certainly not paddled any distance.
My wife was taking the ferry across but dropped me off at my launch point, the Gigha ferry, patiently allowed me to get sorted, then left to catch the boat with little time spare. I did give Mrs R clear info on where I intended to land and when, and at what point I should be considered ‘overdue’ and the CG contacted.
I would be paddling W mostly. Forecast was NW 3-4, but there were only light breezes and ripples on the sea. As soon as Mrs R left, the wind increased notably – blowing from the NW. I considered calling her back, but this would have meant her/ us missing the ferry which had been booked months before.
I launched and paddled the first leg, 4 miles to the south end of Gigha island. The wind kept increasing and slowed me down, it was probably 5 by the time I reached the south point. I have no idea whether it got any stronger than this, but it was enough already to cause me big problems.
I was now looking at more than ten miles of open water with a much bigger fetch – steep close-spaced waves were breaking against the exposed side of Gigha. I have no doubt that at this point I would normally have turned back to the mainland, but of course I was ‘committed’ to my crossing in certain senses; e.g. I was supposed to be meeting Mrs R on the far side. At this point I also realised that I was not carrying any clothes other than those I was wearing, let alone a sleeping bag or tent. So plan #B – hop ashore onto Gigha and try again in the morning – was not an option. I also considered going ashore on Gigha and finding a BnB. But I wasn’t even carrying my wallet.
I made the decision to ‘dip my toe’ – paddle half an hour out from Gigha and see how it went, with the option of turning around and begging a bed on Gigha. However (and I have no idea why), I’m pretty sure that once I had turned my back on Gigha, I never for a moment gave turning around even a moment’s thought.
In the first half mile, several waves broke clean over me, somewhat disconcerting. However, things calmed down as I got into deeper water and I settled into a rhythm. I could not paddle on the intended bearing, it was simply too close to the wind and thus too wet – it meant hitting the windblown waves from the NW repeatedly and making no progress. I aimed further south, but still pointing at Islay.
After an hour, I checked the GPS – I normally hate using this gadget for navigation, but on this occasion I wanted to be sure. I had progressed 1.7 miles, paddling flat out with no breaks, and I was already exhausted. My normal relaxed cruising speed is 4 mph.
That’s it, really. I thrashed on, making slow progress and seriously worried about how long I’d be able to maintain the effort needed to keep making progress. I got pretty cold (suppose another thermal might have been a good idea under the cag) but did not break full-effort paddling for more than a quick mouthful of chocolate at any point. I looked up at one point and saw the ferry some miles to the north of me, and felt quite jealous of all onboard (Mrs R tells me it was a really smooth crossing and the sea looked quite pleasant from the decks!). Other than that it was all head-down paddling, non-stop, and I really wasn’t fit for this.
About 4 miles out from the coast of Islay, I was able to reassure myself that I was going to live through this. I am fully aware of how hyperbolic/ ridiculous that sounds, but it’s exactly what I told myself then, and for a couple of hours beforehand, I was really not sure how things were going to pan out. I was happier now because the swell had receded as I closed the fetch distance between land and myself, and the paddling was much easier/ smoother/ quicker. I was now able to turn more into the wind and regain some of the ground I’d lost off course.
A mile out from Islay, the sea was smooth, the sun was shining and seals came to see me from the reefs. Seeing this gorgeous evening, it was hard to believe what I’d just been out in. I had a relaxed chat with Mrs R on the VHF (just on the cusp of my ‘overdue’ cut-off time), then paddled in and joined her, wobbling quite a bit as I climbed out. I think I’d been paddling for over five hours.
Good news was, the curry house in Port Ellen was still open.
This photo of yesterday’s incident is from Barbara Browning; in the foreground are the bows of her kayak and mine. Just right of Weymouth Lifeboat is the kayak angler whom they extracted (by crane) and evacuated to Weymouth.
Apparently the paddler had strained himself trying to paddle back to shore, opening up an old injury; hence his inability to paddle.
More info/ discussion here.
Pan-Pan – In radiotelephone communications, a call of pan-pan (pronounced /ˈpæn ˈpæn/) is used to signify that there is an urgency on board a boat, ship, aircraft or other vehicle but that, for the time being at least, there is no immediate danger to anyone’s life or to the vessel itself. This is referred to as a state of urgency. This is distinct from a Mayday call, which means that there is imminent danger to life or to the continued viability of the vessel itself. Thus “pan-pan” informs potential rescuers (including emergency services and other craft in the area) that a safety problem exists whereas “Mayday” will call upon them to drop all other activities and immediately initiate a rescue attempt. Source – Wikipedia.
We headed out of icy Ringstead Bay for a paddle today; however, as soon as we arrived beneath the cliffs of White Nothe, we were blasted by unforecasted Force 6 gusts in our faces. It was obvious that making headway was going to be a pain. We turned back early (not before I nearly capsized when my paddle was blown out of my hands whilst trying to adjust my pogies) and headed back to the beach.
A large group of kayak anglers were also at Ringstead having some kind of informal meet, to fish around the reef located a short distance offshore. As soon as we landed, the VHF crackled into life and a ‘Pan Pan’ message was issued by one of these anglers. He was drifting offshore in the strong offshore winds with a friend who couldn’t paddle back against the wind. Portland Coastguard replied and asked for nearby vessels to assist, so (after a quick discussion with the CG) we launched again and paddled out to the two paddlers, located about 500 metres offshore and drifting quickly.
The situation was that one of the paddlers – for reasons unclear – couldn’t move one of his arms to paddle, and hence they were being blown into rougher water. His friend was attempting to tow him, but not making much headway. It would have been quite simple for our group to tow/ guide them both back to the beach, but the Coastguard advised us that the Weymouth Lifeboat (already in the vicinity on exercises) would come to investigate the casualty’s medical situation, and that a SAR helicopter was on standby. I let off a flare to mark our position (a night flare – duh – but it did the job) and the lifeboat soon found us.
The lifeboat crew dragged the casualty onboard – a big chap – and decided to take him to hospital. His huge kayak (he was paddling a double alone) was a bit of a mess – multiple rods and a huge sail trailing in the water – so to save us the hassle of towing this, the lifeboat took that onboard as well. We paddled back to the beach, escorting the other paddler with us.
News is coming through of another major sea kayak incident in the south west – two paddlers have been airlifted to hospital from the south Cornish coast, near Falmouth. Our hope is that they are unharmed and will make a swift recovery.
I will collate news reports on the SWSK Facebook group as they come in… www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=139419152740954
The report below is from the BBC…
Rescued Falmouth kayakers airlifted to hospital
An RNAS Culdrose helicopter airlifted the kayakers to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro
Two kayakers have been rescued after their boats capsized in stormy conditions in Cornwall.
The men had left Maenporth, near Falmouth, en route to the Helford River when they became separated.
Falmouth Coastguard said the alarm was raised at 1410 GMT when a flare set off by one of the kayakers was spotted by the public.
The pair, who were suffering from suspected hypothermia, were flown to the Royal Cornwall Hospital.
Their condition is not known.
RNLI lifeboats from Falmouth and a tanker were also involved in the rescue.
Experienced kayakers The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said the rescue was carried out in heavy seas with poor visibility and with the support of the tanker Cape Daly which was anchored in Falmouth Bay.
The Falmouth inshore lifeboat found one kayaker who had capsized and was in the sea.
Minutes later the second man, whose kayak had also capsized, was found by a search and rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose.
Peter Bullard, MCA watch manager at Falmouth, said the men were lucky to be rescued.
“We understand they are experienced kayakers and were well equipped but they’re still lucky that in such poor weather their distress flare was seen,” he said.
“We always advise anyone venturing onto the sea in such challenging conditions to be realistic about their abilities.”
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.
The two paddlers obscured by waves in the photo above are both on the crew of the local lifeboat. They joined a group of us yesterday for a lively and lumpy paddle along the cliffs and tide races from Kimmeridge to Swanage. Apart from an unscheduled swim in the surf on Kimmeridge reefs just after launching (naming no names!), it was an enjoyable but uneventful paddle. Near the end of the trip however, we encountered a pair of climbers at the base of the cliffs but just above the waves, shouting for help. Although there were other climbers around, they were out of line of sight; we don’t know how long they’d been stuck there.
I called the Coastguard on VHF to tell them. They replied (as usual), “Routine traffic go to Channel XXX…”. I replied, “Portland, this is Kayak Cetus. NOT routine traffic…” and explained the situation. Portland Coastguard then summoned their Swanage shore team to effect a rescue. At their request, some of our group stood offshore to mark the spot for 45 minutes, not much fun in rough clapotis. Although Swanage Lifeboat were not called out, the Coastguard shore team were apparently bemused to find some of the lifeboat crew (whom they knew) already on site.
More photos of yesterday’s paddle here.
The incident gave a sense of deja vu. Some weeks ago, Heather and I were paddling at the far end of Britain among the Out Skerries, a remote and exposed group of isles outlying from the Shetland Islands. Heather spotted a red distress flare being fired above the cliffs about a mile away (which I completely failed to notice). She called Shetland Coastguard and had the same conversation (“No, NOT routine traffic…”). I paddled quickly to the scene, to find that a fishing boat had fired the flare; their engines had failed and they were drifting onto rocks. Thankfully a small fishing dinghy had also arrived and begun to tow them to safety…I’m not sure what I might have been able to achieve with my kayaking towline! We later learned from the Coastguard that Heather’s call was the only notification they received of the flare. This was surprising, as clearly many other folk had seen the flare…
So all, always carry a VHF and be prepared to use it, even if you think it’s unlikely to be needed to summon help for yourself.
A little excitement whilst rockhopping the South Hams coast, during the South West Sea Kayaking Meet earlier this month. The great pics were supplied by Glenn and Anne. No kayakers were harmed in the making of these pics. Much.
After having to work through Saturday on a beautiful day, it was good to escape for a paddle in the evening. I headed out of Kimmeridge late in the day, accompanied by Mrs R and Andy L. We camped at Chapman’s Pool and dined on poorly barbequed burgers and sausages. Good job it was too dark to see them …
In the morning we joined Ade and Claire, who had been camping nearby, for the paddle further on to Swanage. They are both avid kayak anglers, but seeing as they never actually catch anything, they were keen to try using their kayaks for a bit of journeying instead. We headed around St Alban’s Head and explored every nook and cranny along the limestone cliffs. As noted in my book, this is my favourite and most regular paddle … yet I still see something new every time; this time it was some razorbills (basically they are guillemots with silly ‘aviator google’-like markings) and a cave that I could swear was never there before.
Whilst we paddled, we listened on VHF to a situation unfolding nearby. The RIB Cobalt made a Pan Pan distress call to warn the Coastguard that they were drifting without fuel, being blown offshore by the stiff F4. ‘Pan Pan’ is the distress signal used when things have gone pear-shaped, but life is not in immediate danger. The Coastguard did not respond for a few minutes, and I was about to ‘relay’ the message to Portland Coastguard when they finally picked it up and informed Cobalt that they would summon Swanage lifeboat to assist. The lifeboat quickly showed up; no doubt John Gilmour will supply details of how their shout went.
Apologies for the awful photo quality- these pictures were taken by a mobile phone and I had (have) a hangover. I crossed the road from our hotel on Brighton seafront this morning, to get some fresh sea air and clear my head. I was amazed to see wood strewn all along the beach and floating in large expansive rafts out to sea. The photos don’t do it justice, inevitably.
It would seem that the ‘wood slick’ shed from the deck of the Ice Prince has completely bypassed the Dorset and Devon coast, drifting at least 90 miles east to fetch up on the shores of Sussex. Sussex doesn’t feature in South West Sea Kayaking, so I’m mightily relieved; it means that I don’t have to re-edit or change anything. Why was I in Sussex at all? The clue is in the grainy final photo, the quality of which accurately reflects the clarity of my memory of last night. We were gathered for the Stag Night of Kevin F (pictured), of whom more tomorrow.