One trapped kayaker, one helm's first shout
Abersoch lifeboat volunteer Guy Williams tackled his first shout as helm in June, when a kayaker got trapped after fighting blustery weather and choppy seas.
Guy’s pager went off at 4.44pm, just as he was packing up work for the day at his family’s garage in town. ‘You never know what you’re going to when you hear those beeps,’ he says. ‘I just got on my bike and pedalled like mad to the station!’
The Coastguard had reported that a kayaker was in difficulties just around the corner from Porth Bach, an area popular with kayakers and paddleboarders. Although the man wasn’t in immediate danger, the tide and increasingly strong winds were against him – he couldn’t make his way to Abersoch’s main beach.
‘We had a fairly good idea where the kayaker was,’ says Guy. ‘But there are quite a few caves and small coves on that bit of coastline – and they’re not particularly well named – so he could have been in any one of about three.’
Guy had notched up over a decade on the crew but this was to be his first as helm. ‘It was a month after I’d passed my helm’s course,’ he says. ‘I was excited but also quite nervous. Moving from crew to helm, there’s a lot of responsibility on you. And one of the things they instil in you during the course is to take a step back and go at every situation with a clear mind.
‘So I waited a moment for some seasoned crew to turn up. I knew Jonty and Lee would be absolute assets – Lee especially on this one as he’s in the local kayaking club. I also took one of our newer crew members Ifan, who is great and really keen.’
The three Abersoch lifesavers, with the support of their fellow shore crew volunteers, launched their Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat Peter and Ann Setten a few minutes later. ‘It was relatively calm in the bay,' says Guy. ‘We had a moderate north-easterly blowing, with just over a metre of swell. But as soon as we went around the coast it started to build. It was blowing quite hard, about force 5. And there was quite a bit of chop which is what must have tired the kayaker out.
Fortunately, the kayaker had gone to sea well-equipped and prepared, and he knew when to call for help. Guy and the RNLI crew found him a short distance around the cliffs, sheltering in the lull of a cave.
‘It was the exact spot we thought he was going to be in,’ says Guy. ‘The man realised he wasn’t going to make it back against the increasing offshore winds and dropping tide. Luckily he hadn’t tried to be to the hero and have a go. If he had, he probably would have been washed onto the rocks.’
‘It was quite shallow there, with a lot of boulders, so I couldn’t get in too close. I had to work to avoid the lifeboat being washed onto the rocks. So we called over to check he was ok and if he was happy to lift his anchor and paddle towards us. He was, and when he was close enough, we threw a line and pulled and him alongside. We got the man onboard with his fishing rods and pulled his kayak across the bow.’
The lifeboat volunteers checked the kayaker over. Apart from being cold and exhausted, he was fine to make the journey back to Abersoch’s main beach, where he was dropped off and met by Abersoch coastguards. The lifeboat crew returned to station at 5.45pm, a little over an hour after launching. They then refuelled and headed straight off to a joint exercise with their crew mates on Pwllheli lifeboat.
‘I was happy with that as my first shout as helm,’ says Guy. ‘The crew were great and we got the chap back safely, which is what it’s all about.’
Andy Vowell, Abersoch’s Lifeboat Operations Manager says: ‘The weather turned a lot sooner than expected that day which is why the kayaker got caught out. But the important thing to learn here is that he didn’t try to get out of there by climbing rocks, or battling the wind paddling back round. He did the right thing by staying where he was and calling the coastguard.’
The following day, the grateful kayaker sent a message to Abersoch RNLI’s Facebook page: ‘Huge thanks to the crew who rescued me. Every one of them were absolutely brilliant. I’ve made a donation to this amazing charitable organisation which is mainly volunteers who dedicate their time to saving lives and keeping us safe at sea’. His daughter also posted: ‘Thank you for saving my dad.’
Your legacy can be our lifeline
Just as RNLI crews are made up of ordinary people like Guy, Jonty, Lee and Ifan, so too are the people who fund their lifesaving craft. The inshore lifeboat used in this rescue was funded thanks to the legacy of Mrs Ann Constance Setten of Shropshire. It’s named after her and her husband.
You don’t have to be rich to leave a gift in your Will. Whatever you can afford, will make an incredible difference to saving lives. Find out how your legacy can be our lifeline.
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