Sunday, 13 March 2011

"Mayday Mayday Mayday" A Bad Day at Sea

Yes that's me standing next to the HMS Exploit. (looking rather short)
And yes that's my boat tied off to the HMS Exploit.
I hold my head in utter shame.  How many of you read about a kayaker having to be rescued and think to yourself....probably another inexperienced idiot! I know I have, but today it was me.
It all started off fine.  The sun was high in the sky, a westerly force 3, neap tides.  A trip that I have performed many times.
There was a hefty swell as I got further out into the channel and a bit of wind at my back pushing me along, but it was a nice day, all was good.  I did think to myself this could get choppy on the way back, wind against tide.
I came through the usual race off the south east corner of Flat Holm, gulls signaling my arrival.
I landed had a chat with the warden who was conducting a bird survey, gulls were back in force!  His splattered coat showed evidence of that.
Tide was still in flood so I had a couple of cups of tea and sat on the slipway in the warmth of the sun, which made a change.  The sea still look lovely and flat.  I was in no rush.
I made my way around the island to the light house, the tide was now ebbing nicely.
At the south east point wind gust up, the race just off shore looked nasty.  I know it can sometimes get a bit rough on the south of the island so paddled back around to the slipway.
A resident goat made an appearance.
Back through the gap between Castle Rock and the other side didn't look to inviting either.
I sat in the eddy behind Castle Rock and took this last shot.  I've been through this tide race plenty of times before on leaving the island so it wasn't a problem.  Tide on wind and swell made for a hair raising ride.  Some of the bigger waves had me scrambling for my kit as it got washed from my deck.  It soon became evident it wasn't just a race, the waves stretched on and on.  I was confident and I felt at ease, my boat was stable.  I had been in much worse sea states, however much closer to shore, and usually heading in the right direction.  I wasn't making much speed, 2-3kts battling in to the wind and waves.  I could only paddle head on into the waves but I needed to make a ferry glide off to the right.  I was way off course.  I battled on, my own pride preventing me from calling for help.  I finally made the decision I wasn't going to make it to shore and grabbed the radio for assistance before it got any worse.  
I heard my own call for help repeated over the radio.  "mayday..mayday..mayday a 15ft red kayak under the call sign kayak 1 is in need of urgent assistance, any vessels in the vicinity please respond to location....."   I could here the engine of a boat, I looked to my stern expecting to see the orange bow of an RNLI lifeboat.  Instead I was greeted with the image of a grey Royal Navy ship plowing into the swell.
They threw me a line which I tied off to the boat and scrambled on board.  The Exploit was swaying heavily in the swell, the bow of my boat getting push under by the downward fall of theirs.  They sat me down in the cabin and made me a lovely brew.  The captain said one minute they were sailing about in nice clam sea then like the flick of a switch it all turned nasty. 
I just couldn't keep on course it was as simple as that.  In the end I thought this could get out of hand then it would get serious, so better to be safe than sorry.  I keep thinking back and sometimes wish I had just carried on, maybe making my way steadily across, possibly landing nearer Barry.  I sat back in shame aboard the Exploit and admired the skill of the crew as they navigated up the channel into Penarth Marina, the wind playing havoc with their reverse parking skills in the narrow docks.  My thanks go out to all the crew of the HMS Exploit and the Coastguard for their quick response.  A special thanks as well the Richie for getting me back to Sully to my van.  Feel free to take the mick, everyone else has.  My mates have already changed my name on a stag night t-shirt to 'Lost at Sea'.

There are a couple of other thank yous that I must add, the Nells Point National Coastwatch played an important part in my rescue (see comments bellow) and the Penarth Life Boat was also launched.


Anonymous said...

It takes a brave man to ask for help. There are many lost at sea who wish they had. Never underestimate the power of Neptune


stoney (Martyn) said...

Well thats one to tell the grandkids! At least you'll have the chance anyay : o
Get back in soon and keep us all entertained! Lol

eurion said...

Was this Sunday 13th by any chance? I noticed the weather was all set for a great day paddling (F3-4) and looked very calm in the morning. Went down to Barry Island in the afternoon looking out from the coastal watch station, it wasbig conditions, wind against tide was looking very very tasty indeed, with some big breaking waves out off the point. Glad it didn't turn bad for you. Bet you glad you bought that radio now! Thanks for the post.

Stuart said...

Mike - Thanks for the support, although I wouldn't say I was brave

Martyn - I wish my wife had the same attitude, I think I'm banned from going back out for a while :)

Eruion - Yes it was. Lovely when I set off, turned nasty on the turn of the tide. It was around 1pm, big breaking waves sounds about right. Probably the biggest I've paddled in yet. Would have been great fun closer to shore, not so much out there! It was a mix feeling between 'this is great fun' and 'oh shit I'm going to die'. At least I know the radio works!

Anonymous said...

Your wife worries from the moment you leave to the moment you come home, it's my job, Taran better get used to you tagging along. Loves you loads mwah x x x

James Murray said...

Glad to see you got out of that one safely Stuart. Nice to know help is at hand when you need it. We had a lumpy crossing between Flat Holm and Steep Holm once so I know how exposed you must have felt. Look forward to seeing you on the water soon.

Anonymous said...

National coastwatch.
We logged you leaving Sully at 10.50 on Sunday morning.
The next we heard from you was your Mayday call at 12.50pm,we plotted your position,located you with our large Binoculars, and let Swansea Coastguard know we had you under visual contact and advised them of local craft in your area.
We let them know when HMS Exploit was within 200 yards of you, and she made a lee and picked you up.
By the look of the swell you made a good call.
NCI is a vouluntary organisation that has a Coastwath station at Nells point, keeping a watch over the local sea area.

Stuart said...

Thanks for all the comments, really means a lot.

Anonymous said...

No shame in asking for help. I bet the Exploit Crew enjoyed doing it anyway.I have been sailing small boats around here for a long time and have seen lots of people caught out in the same place. I think if you had just continued paddling West into the seas within a couple of miles the seas would have become more regular in shape and you could have landed near Barry.
The combination of the ebb tide against the wind plus the comparative warmth of the afternoon will have caused a sea breeze further worsening the conditions for you.If you had left Flatholme an hour before High Water you would have got back no problem.At the end of the day you are alive and well ready for the next time so alls good.

Best of Luck I enjoy lurking in your blog. Cheers Graham

soundoftheseagull said...

Glad your OK thanks for sharing right decision

James Haddock said...


I stumbled across your blog, and have posted a link on our Official Facebook page.
I'm sure our Captain was more than happy to pick you up; at sea, we're all responsible for looking after each other.

Nice pic's by the way!

Wishing you plain sailing (or is that kyaking :p),

Mid Haddock
PR Officer, Birmingham URNU (EXPLOIT)

Stuart Yendle said...

Thanks James, I think it was all good experience for the both of us. Doubt I would have had a cuppa on the RLNI boat :)

Thanks again to all the crew.

Anonymous said...

It makes a refreshing change to read a report that is open and honest, which can only be helpful to other paddlers. Good call, made at the right time before the situation got really out of hand. We could have all been reading an entirely different kind of report had you not called in.

Anonymous said...

Hardest call to make - knowing when it's too much. Best call you can make though. Folks would rather have a happy rescue than a sad corpse collection. Keep on paddling!