Blown away: The family who drifted out to sea

In August, a family who took their paddleboard and kayak out in Cleethorpes Beach were blown out to sea and stranded. This is their story, in their own words.

‘The weather was fine that morning. I’m not saying it wasn’t windy, but we’d been out in similar conditions.

‘It was a high tide, probably about 7.5 metres. We’d always check the tides but weren’t too observant of the wind. We just did it by feel and went down to see who else was out there. 

‘My husband Pete* went out in an inflatable one-man kayak, and my daughter Hannah* and I were on an adult paddleboard. We were all wearing high visibility lifejackets. Pete always takes his mobile phone in a waterproof case, which I bought him for his 50th birthday. 

‘It was early – about 8:30am. Hannah, who is 9, was on the front of the paddleboard and I was towards the back so I could paddle. We said: “Let’s race round following the shoreline to the first beacon.” Within a few minutes, the sea had taken us quite far out.'

Two people paddleboarding off the south coast of England

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Two people paddleboarding off the south coast of England

Difficult to control

‘We tried 3 or 4 times to get back shore. When you’re on the back of a paddleboard and you’ve got some weight on the front, they’re really, really difficult to control. I was kneeling because it was too windy to stand up. Pete stayed with me in the kayak.

‘He was continually turning my board around as I struggled to get us back to shore but we were just getting further and further out. 

‘We were trying to keep our daughter calm. She’s a bit of an anxious child and any sign of alarm would worried her. Thankfully she couldn’t see my face or Pete’s. We kept telling her to lean forward. 

‘Eventually, Pete said: “Right, let’s just stay together. You hang onto my kayak and I’ll hang onto the paddleboard at the back”. We kept telling our daughter to hang on. I think 5 minutes went by but in that situation, the concept of time goes out the window. 

‘That’s when we said: “Shall we ring the coastguard?”'

‘It’s the only thing we can do’

‘I felt so stupid but just didn’t have the strength to get back in. The wind was so strong. The sun was going by then and it was getting really, really choppy. I said, “Honestly, Pete, I think it’s the only thing we can do.”
 
‘So we did. It seemed like he was on the phone for ages as they asked him questions. It was really hard to explain where we were but we did it in relation to a fort that’s out at sea. And then we waited.'

The family were blown a mile and a half out to sea, near Haile Sand Fort

Photo: Annabel McCourt

The family were blown a mile and a half out to sea, near Haile Sand Fort

‘The strangest thing happened while we were waiting – a seal popped up. And Pete said: “I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere that seals detect danger when people are in trouble.” So we had that for Hannah to focus on, saying: “Keep looking out for the seal.” 

‘Time passed – it felt like an age. We couldn’t see the lifeboat coming.’

‘Are you alright?’

‘I am 50 years old and I’d been kneeling on my knees for a good 30 minutes. I was in agony. I said to Pete: “Ring 999 again” but we couldn’t get a signal because we were getting further and further out. We were level with the fort then, going out into the estuary. Then 999 rang him back and said somebody was on their way. 

‘I couldn’t turn to look back, I couldn’t see what was on shore. The waves were lapping over the board. I was holding onto Pete’s kayak and we literally had to just sit and wait. Hannah would have a little wobble every now and then, and we’d remind her to look out for the seal and the lifeboat.'

Cleethorpes’ D class inshore lifeboat, James Burgess II, launching to the rescue

Photo: Martin Fish

Cleethorpes’ D class inshore lifeboat, James Burgess II, launching to the rescue

‘Eventually the lifeboat came to Pete’s side. They said: “Are you alright?” and we said we were. I felt a massive amount of relief but I felt so stupid at the same time. 

‘The relief wasn’t even for myself, it was more for Hannah – there’s only so long you’ve got the strength to hold on and stay in that position. The waves were getting quite high by then, there was only so long she could manage. 

‘They came round to my side and got Hannah first, which changed the weight on the board so I had to keep quite steady. Then one of them grabbed the board and they had to drag me into the boat because my legs had gone – I don’t know whether it was with stress, anxiety or being in the same position for 30-40 minutes. Then they got Pete in.

‘Hannah still looked petrified. She was cold as well – she’d only had a short wetsuit on because it was summer.’

‘It happens to the best people’

‘The crew were fantastic and very reassuring. I mentioned more than once how stupid and foolish I felt we were, but they played that down and said it happens to the best people. The remarkable thing was how long it took to get back to shore. It made me realise how far we’d drifted out. That made it scarier – I wondered what would have happened if we hadn’t had the phone.'

‘When we got back to the beach, the Coastguard told us about an app that shows you the wind direction and strength.

‘I was cold, so we went back to the hut and I had a bar of chocolate. We hadn’t had breakfast because we tend to have brunch afterwards. I don’t think that helped with my energy levels when we were trying to paddle.

‘Hannah doesn’t seem to have had any ill-effects from our ordeal but I don’t think she has a full realisation of what could have happened like we do.

‘She certainly had something to say when she went back to school!’

*The family's real names were not used in this story

Next time you head out to sea

This family did the right thing by bringing a mobile phone in a waterproof case and wearing personal flotation devices. This helped them to call for help and stay safe. A mobile phone can give a more accurate description of where you are, whether that’s via landmarks, location apps like what3words or your latitude and longitude using your phone’s GPS. 

If you’re thinking of paddleboarding, make sure you follow our safety advice:

  • If you can, always go with a friend.
  • Check the weather forecast and tide times before you set out.
  • Avoid offshore winds.
  • Wear suitable clothing for the time of year.
  • Always use a paddleboard with a suitable releasable leash.
  • Get the appropriate level of training.

Check out our safety pages for more tips on paddleboarding and kayaking.

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