Sailors describe the moment they were rescued by Sennen Cove RNLI

Lifeboats News Release

Experienced sailors Delia Swift and her husband Chris Bell describe how volunteer lifeboat crew from Sennen Cove saved their lives when their yacht lost its rudder in bad weather whilst rounding Lands End.

They recount their frightening experience as the RNLI releases its rescue figures for 2021, revealing lifeboat crews and lifeguards in the south west saved 93 lives in total over the year, a 20% increase in the number of lives saved in 2020.

The data shows increased demand for the RNLI’s services. Last year, 1,350 people were helped by RNLI lifeboat crews in the south west* - an increase of 11% on 2020. This increased demand is also reflected in the number of lifeboat launches – 1,387 lifeboat launches took place in 2021 (an increase of 7% on 2020), with 2022 expected to be another busy year.

With demand for its lifesaving services at a high, the charity is putting out its own ‘Mayday’ call, urging the public to take part in the Mayday Mile, to raise essential funds to provide vital training and equipment to keep their lifesavers safe, while they risk their lives to save others.

Whether you choose to walk, jog, hop or skip, the Mayday Mile challenges you to cover at least one mile in any way you like between Saturday 1st and Monday 31st May, whilst raising vital funds for RNLI lifesavers so that they can continue to keep people safe at sea.

Delia and her husband Chris were rescued by Sennen Cove RNLI after their yacht lost its rudder in gale force winds off Lands End in June last year.

Being experienced sailors, they had set off from their home in Chichester with their dog Ozzy on a three-month voyage around Britain exactly four weeks previously. Having made it as far as Padstow on the north coast of Cornwall, a run of strong northerly winds had meant they had been stuck in the harbour for 12 days, and with more poor weather forecast, they made the difficult decision to cut the trip short and head back home.

Watching the forecast closely they spotted a gap in the weather and left Padstow, heading for Lands’ End and the relative shelter of the south coast. While they had a good wind, unfortunately their yacht wasn’t fast enough to round Land’s End before dark so they decided to anchor in St Ives Bay as the safest option. At that time, the forecast was indicating strong gusts of wind the following day but they had put in place the necessary precautions. After a long night on anchor watch, the next day brought with it a steady Force 8 gale and big seas and the yacht was being dragged towards the shore. The pair were forced to take up the anchor and head out to sea, away from the coast, in a North Westerly direction and kept in hourly contact with the Coastguard.

By midday, with no sign of the wind dying down and after informing the Coastguard, the pair felt there was no other option than to make a run with the wind and tide for Lands’ End. In extremely heavy weather, they made good headway. Five hours later the wind had eased slightly, but was still gusting and the seas remained big. They were cold and wet but continued to draw upon their experience. As the tide turned however, it became very difficult to control the boat with the heavy swell and tidal turbulence. The forces exerted proved too much for the yacht and the rudder was lost. With no way of steering the boat, they were now at the mercy of the sea...

Delia says;

‘I can honestly say that the volunteers at Sennen Cove RNLI saved our lives, we wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for their help.

‘We are very experienced sailors of over 50 years and have sailed across the North Sea and English Channel long-distance. We always respect the sea and do not take risks, but this proves how you can get caught out, even when being careful. I cannot express how frightening it was and how reassuring it was to hear that they were on their way and to see the beautiful orange lifeboat appear on the horizon and know that help was near.

‘The team were wonderful. They were lovely, professional, and compassionate, whilst focusing on what they needed to do to save lives and keep everyone safe. Had they not come, the outcome could have been so different that day.’

Sennen Cove’s volunteer RNLI crew launched their all-weather lifeboat City of London III into the heavy rain and located Delia and Chris on their yacht four and a half miles northwest of Sennen Cove. They quickly established a tow and made steady progress through the strong tidal streams to the safety of Newlyn harbour.

Dickon Berriman, Area Lifesaving Manager at RNLI says:

‘Delia and Chris’s experience illustrates just how quickly situations can escalate even for the most seasoned of sailors. Incidents involving sailing vessels were up 27% in 2021 compared to the previous year.

‘The RNLI has been saving lives at sea for almost 200 years. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people in the UK and Ireland needing our help over the last year, and we are so proud that our brave lifesavers have been there to save them.

‘This summer, thousands of people will get into danger by the water whilst enjoying a day out with their family or friends. Despite what you may think, it’s so easy to get into danger. It can happen to anyone. That’s why we’re calling on our supporters to sign up for their own Mayday Mile, to help give our lifesavers everything they need to continue to keep people safe this summer – and beyond.’

All money raised through the Mayday Mile will give RNLI lifesavers the training, equipment and kit that they need to rescue others and come home safe themselves.

The Mayday Mile will be running from Saturday 1 May to Monday 31 May. Sign up and find out more at RNLI.org/SupportMayday today.

Notes to editors

  • Video of Delia and Chris recounting the incident is available to download from here
  • An RNLI spokesperson is available for interview, contact Emma (below) to request
  • Images of Delia and Chris and picture of their yacht being towed by the Sennen Cove Lifeboat is available to download from the RNLI news centre
  • The Mayday Mile landing page can be reached at RNLI.org/SupportMayday

How your money helps:

  • £25 could provide a pair of sea-going gloves to protect the RNLI’s lifesavers from wind-chill and rope burn.
  • £80 could buy a pair of sturdy, protective, non-slip boots to keep volunteers sure-footed at sea.
  • £100 could help the RNLI to bring water safety lessons to school children for the summer season ahead.

RNLI media contacts

For more information please telephone Emma Haines, RNLI Regional Media Officer on 07786668847 or [email protected] or RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

Delia and Chris aboard their yacht

RNLI/Sennen Cove

Delia and Chris being towed by Sennen Cove lifeboat crew

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.