Bantham: The family dragged out to sea
While some families spent the afternoon carving pumpkins and adding finishing touches to costumes on Saturday 31 October 2015, a few flocked to the seaside to make the most of the unusually mild weather.
The sands of Devon’s Bantham Beach were quiet, but the sea was filled with surfers and bodyboarders enjoying the waves.
It was the penultimate day of the 2015 lifeguard season, and brothers Isaac and Theo Stopard were on duty. They were coming to the end of a busy day, having already aided a swimmer, a father and son, and a surfer, who had all been caught in one of Bantham’s infamous rip currents.
‘By the time I was halfway there, they were already in trouble’
At 4pm that afternoon, Isaac was on duty at the water’s edge. ‘There was an incoming tide, so I was very conscious about moving the kit up the beach and trying to maintain a safe bathing zone,’ he recalls. He had spent the afternoon warning beachgoers about the rip before they entered the water and monitoring surfers who were using the rip to paddle out.
‘There was a strong glare from the sun, but I noticed a number of bodyboarders further out to sea drifting towards the rip. I started walking towards the rip to advise them to swim back across. But by the time I was halfway there, they were already in trouble.’
Theo was just returning to the lifeguard hut from his foot patrol of the beach when another lifeguard pointed to the bodyboarders in trouble.There were five people, including two children, caught in the rip and drifting out to sea. They were surrounded by submerged rocks and buffeted by large waves. The lifeguards knew they had to reach them quickly and decided to launch the inshore rescue boat.
Isaac and Theo rushed to the boat. It was a race against the clock. But despite the growing danger, the brothers kept clear heads.
‘I have carried out numerous rescues and know this beach very well, so I was pretty calm and knew where I had to drive and what hazards to avoid in order to safely pick up the bodyboarders,’ Isaac recalls.
‘I knew that as long as they remained calm and held onto their bodyboards, we would be able to get to them in time. My first thoughts were about getting the boat in the water, so I could reassure the casualties.’
‘They had split into two groups’
Isaac continues: ‘They had split into two groups: two women and a girl, who were furthest out and shouting, and a man and a girl, closer in. We decided to prioritise those furthest out.
‘As we drove past the two closest in, we told them to stay calm, hold onto their bodyboards and swim parallel to the beach, and that we would be back soon.’
Carefully manoeuvring over the rough surf and treacherous rocks, Isaac and Theo reached the group further out to sea. They dragged both women and the child from the perilous rip and returned them safely to shore.
They raced straight out again to reach the man and child still in danger. Isaac recalls: ‘By the time we got back to the other two, they were among the breaking waves.'
They pulled the girl from the rough waters and took her back to shore. Then they powered back to the man, who had managed to swim into waist-deep water, and helped him to safety.
‘We reassured everyone, checked they were OK, hadn't swallowed any water and didn't know of anyone else in trouble,’ Isaac adds.
The family had had a lucky escape.
And what was it like working together as brothers?
‘Isaac and I rarely have the chance to work together and that day was the first time we had done a rescue together in the boat,’ Theo says. ‘I really like working with my brother because we each know how the other works and I am very confident in his ability and judgement.’
Isaac has been an RNLI lifeguard for seven seasons and is currently lifesaving in New Zealand after working at the Marine Biological Association last year.
This was Theo’s fourth season and he recently graduated from university. He is now continuing his work with charities by completing an internship at the Dartington Social Research Unit.
Fancy joining Isaac and Theo for 2016? We think that working as an RNLI lifeguard is one of the best Summer jobs going. Take a look at our lifeguard recruitment page to see if you’ve got what it takes.