A rock and a hard place
Trapped between steep cliffs and surging waves on the rocks of Ramsey Island, father and daughter have no way to escape.
It was a beautiful day when Chris and Molly started their kayaking trip around Ramsey Island, on 14 September 2019.
But things change quickly at sea. Despite the idyllic weather, it wasn’t long before they found themselves caught in a strong current. To avoid being swept out into open sea, they decided to stick close to the edge of the island.
Then Chris’s kayak capsized. He emerged from the water and scrambled onto the rocks. He turned around to check on his daughter, but all he could see was her overturned kayak. She’d capsized too.
To his relief, she re-appeared and joined him on the rocks. They attempted to get back into their kayaks, but the current was just too strong. They knew they couldn’t stay there as the water was rising, but they also knew there was no way out. ‘I was trying to stay calm because I didn’t want to worry Molly, but I knew we were in trouble,’ Chris says.
Fortunately, he and Molly had a phone in a waterproof bag.
‘You never know’
On the shore, Crew Member Mike Chant was celebrating the birth of his fifth grandchild. As well as volunteering for the RNLI and St Davids Council, Mike works as a musician. ‘I’m a singer-songwriter,’ he says, ‘So I tour around, play music at festivals and record albums.’ It was set to be a great day for Mike, with his new granddaughter having been born just 2 hours ago, and a gig to look forward to in the evening.
That’s when his pager went off. So he jumped into action. ‘It was a relatively nice day, but you never know,’ he says, ‘It’s a bit of a drive to our station, and as you get closer you can feel the adrenaline pick up.’ Within 12 minutes, Mike and the crew were aboard St Davids Tamar Norah Wortley.
When they arrived on the scene, a passenger boat was nearby. They had spotted kayakers Molly and Chris but couldn’t get close enough to the rocks to help them. Mike and Crew Member Tom Kirby got onboard the small inflatable Y-boat.
‘The place they found themselves is where the tide splits around the rock. The tide can get up to 8 or 9 knots, and over the reach it can get to 18 to 20 knots, so it’s like a rapid,’ Mike explains. ‘It’s not just a gentle flow of tide coming in and out – in an hour you can be several miles away. And they were on their last stop before open sea. If they’d missed that rock, they would’ve been swept out to sea.’
Mike and Tom made their way to father and daughter. Mike recalls: ‘We weighed it up, working out how we were going to extract them. There was nowhere they were going – couldn’t go up, couldn’t go down. And they couldn’t get back in their kayaks because they kept capsizing.’
The surging waves made it difficult, but with careful timing, Mike brought the Y-boat up close to the rocks. They helped Molly into the boat first and took her to the safety of the all-weather lifeboat. ‘Molly was apologising,’ Mike says, ‘but I’ve been in call outs in that same area of water where a person didn’t make it. So I said to her, “No, you absolutely did the right thing.”’
After helping Molly, they returned to the rocks for Chris. ‘I can’t tell you the relief I felt seeing the lifeboat,’ Chris says, ‘I am so grateful to all the crew from the RNLI who came to rescue me and my daughter.’
Mike adds: ‘It was quite a day for me – grandchild born in the morning, then a really nice rescue and I still made my gig in the evening. Molly and Chris absolutely did the right thing calling for help. Sometimes people get a little bit worried they’re being a nuisance to us, but we volunteer to be on a lifeboat because we love doing it and because we can do it. I think that this is a really important message: if in doubt, call us out. ‘If you get into in trouble, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.’
Top three tips for safe kayaking
- Plan your trip – check the weather, tides and any anomalies in the area.
- Wear a suitable buoyancy aid.
- Carry a means of calling for help, like a VHF radio or a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch, and keep it on you, within reach, at all times.
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