28 April 2017
'Thank you for rescuing us!' say family cut off by the tide
When sisters Emily and Lydia from Chester visited Newborough Beach in North Wales on a blustery February day they had no idea they'd end their trip on a lifeboat - especially as they hadn't even been in the water!
Getting cut off by the tide is an incredibly easy mistake to make, and it happens to a lot of people around our coast every year. In fact, in the week prior to the family's visit to Holy Island, Trearddur Bay lifeboat had been called out to two strandings in the area.
Trearddur Bay Lifeboat Helm Daf Griffiths knows how easy it is to get caught out: ’There are several spots around Holy Island, including Llanddwyn, where you can get cut off. We even had a fisherman once on Christmas Day - just as I was carving the turkey!’
The UK and Ireland have some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world; changes in depth between high and low water can be as much as 10m. A fast-moving spring tide not only has a greater depth range than a neap tide, it also comes further up the beach and can last longer.
For the girls' mum, Anna, getting stranded came as a shock and she kicked herself afterwards. ‘I’m a very responsible, 40-something parent - or so I thought. All of a sudden I was stranded in this situation with my children. How could I be so stupid?
‘I don’t particularly know the area, so when we arrived I checked the sign and saw there was a 5-mile walk we could do. But what I didn’t notice was the warning. My aunt had told us to look out for the tides, but that there were some stepping stones, so I’d put it from my mind.’
Rescuees: Lydia and Emily
According to Lydia and Emily, it had been ages since they'd been to Anglesey for a day out. Lydia, 9, describes the day: 'We put our wellies on and went down to the beach and read the signs to see which walk we would do. So we walked along the beach, did some games, jumped off some hills. Me and Emily played beach tag and looked for shark eggcases.
‘We went up the red and white lighthouse and found these little wooden houses, and had dinner in the little porch. Then some people said: “We can't get out” and when we looked there were no stepping stones.
‘Big black clouds were coming so Daddy said we should stay on the island in the shelter to keep dry. Mummy was a bit worried and Emily was a little bit panicking that we wouldn't get across.'
Emily, 7, chimes in: 'There were two ladies who tried to go back but they fell over so a young man came and picked them out of the sea. Then the RNLI boat came zooming around the corner and the man got off the boat and said: “We're here to rescue you.” I felt a bit scared because I didn't know how we were going to get to the boat. But he said: “I’ll give you a piggy back.”
‘I wanted to watch Mummy and Lydia go first. When it was my turn I felt a little bit scared going into the sea. We got wet trousers sitting on the boat and I got carried like a baby by a coastguard on the other side.
‘We knew about the lifeboats because we would go to Criccieth and watch them but we didn't know what they did. Now we know they rescue people and families and dogs and they can tow boats back so they can be fixed.'
Rescuees: Anna and David
‘When we came back to the main beach my husband and I were really concerned to see that the water had come in,’ says Anna. ‘David and I then checked high tide and thought we'd clear it in daylight but I was concerned about how to judge when it was safe to go. The water was quite ferocious. We were told afterwards that it would have been about 7pm and pitch black before we'd have been able to cross.’
While they were waiting on the shore, keeping the girls occupied with games, three people on the mainland had noticed the group’s predicament and called the Coastguard.
‘We knew we had to wait for the tide to drop so we were all together in the shelter. When the Coastguard arrived on the other side and the lifeboat came around the headland we thought it was a training exercise! We joked that we’d get to watch the lifeboat while we waited - we didn’t realise they would come out for us.’
'We hadn't been to Llanddwyn before and I'd wondered out loud why it was called an island,’ says David. ‘I guess the clue is in the name! The sand on the bar is really soft and the crew told us afterwards that if we'd fallen over we could have been sucked out to sea through the gap in the rocks.’
Anna continues: 'The day they came and rescued us was very rough. To the right, by Newborough Beach, is quite calm but around the other side is mayhem. I felt extremely grateful but also irresponsible for creating this emergency situation - although I did feel a little better when I learned that one of the people rescued with us was a former lifeboat crew member!’
Crew: Daf and Sion
'I was painting at home when the pager went,’ recalls Daf. ‘The Mrs always has me painting something on a Saturday!’
‘And I’d just walked in the door from work,’ adds Crew Member Sion Owen. ‘I’d left early so I guess I had a premonition! The Coastguard told us there were 12 or 13 people stranded on the island. When we got there, most were huddled in a shelter looking cold, wet and quite miserable.'
'A lot of people we come across don’t realise the danger they’re in,’ says Daf. 'There’s a sign in the car park with a warning, but it won’t show tide times and checking them on the phone isn’t always accurate. In this instance, the spring tide and weather conditions combined to cause a surge keeping the tide in flood for longer.’
Sion continues: ‘So they thought the tide would turn in an hour and that they could wade across then. I had to tell them it would be late and that it would be dangerous to cross in the dark because the sand there is soft and - in three feet of water - you’d be gone.
‘Two of the kids started crying because they had to go in the boat and would be separated while being carried across. One of the little girls, Emily, was panicking and worried about being piggy-backed, so we paired them up, mum and child, dad and child, which helped.'
According to Daf, the family did the right thing, staying where they were: 'They were already wet and in for a 4-hour wait. Once it starts to get cold and dark, kids can get upset and, in the stress, poor decisions can be made. If they’d tried to cross the channel, they could have been swept out.'
To thank the crew for rescuing them, Emily sent a special drawing. ‘We don’t often hear back from rescuees,’ smiles Daf, 'so Emily’s letter and picture were a lovely surprise.'
A challenging shout
Daf shares his assessment of the rescue, from the perspective of helm:
‘With every shout we have to weigh up the benefits versus the risks. That day it was a force 7 and, clearing the headland, it was quite rough. We hit a good wave coming out of the bay - a few good ones! The Coastguard had concerns about the conditions and whether it was safe to continue but when they realised there were kids involved and that they’d have to wait for hours, we carried on.
‘The minute it gets dark it's a treacherous bit of coast to be crossing back, so we needed to get them off quickly. Where it shallows out around the island, the waves build up and break so it’s hard to get in there, but I was more concerned about getting out. You’ve got to thread through the rocks while hugging the corner and a spring tide hides hazards.’
The rescue footage below shows the crew beginning to transfer the people from the island into their B class Atlantic 85 lifeboat Hereford Endeavour in the rough seas and failing light.
Emily: ‘I would tell a friend to make sure they don't have a picnic, because it made us late. And take a swimming costume.’
Anna: ‘I don't think a swimming costume would work, Emily, but I would say: Be extra careful in checking the tides and where the water is going to come up to.‘
David: ‘And don't take any risks. When we heard about where we’d have ended up if we'd fallen while crossing, it was the right thing to stay on the island. Stay warm and dry and wait it out.’
Lydia: ‘And play games!’
Sion: ‘That morning was really sunny and they didn’t know they would get stuck. But it’s important to check the weather forecast before going out so you have the right clothing for the conditions.’
Daf: ‘If you’re not sure but you think somebody’s in trouble, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard. We’d rather go out to a call in good faith than have someone end up in difficulty or - worse - a fatality.’
Anyone can be caught out so please remember to check tide tables before heading out. You can find out more about tidal cut-off and other coastal risks in our Know the risks pages. And please share your knowledge with others.
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