Windsurfing is a lot safer than many people think it to be, as long as you look after yourself and your gear that is. But, as we are at the mercy of Mother Nature, when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong. Exeter university windsurfer Alex Powell, went through the type of experience all windsurfers dread but survived to tell Boards the tale, thanks to the RNLI.
Over the Easter period on the 25th April 2012, I was windsurfing off the Eastern side of Hayling Island with three friends who were all experienced windsurfers and found myself getting into a little mishap…
We had been windsurfing for three hours, off Chichester harbour entrance with the wind being onshore South/South West and a Force 5, making some great conditions. Everything was going hunky-dorey until I catapulted about 50 metres off the beach and winded myself BIG time. Within about three minutes of faffing around sorting my kit out and thinking “ouch” the ebb tide had ripped me to the end of Hayling headland. This would have been fine, but l was then hit by a nice Force 11 (55 knots+) squall.
Every time I tried to get the sail (a 4.7m, which would have been fine for the predicted conditions) out of the water it just got ripped out of my hands by the wind and proceeded to get a nice tear in it. “Brilliant job Alex,” I thought to myself!
Firstly, you are in a ridiculous ebb tide getting sucked out to sea and secondly, you are now in a force 11, massively overpowered – what a winning combination. The other advanced windsurfers I was with tried to come and help, but couldn’t even launch off the beach, as an indicator of how mental the conditions were.
Within about 25 minutes I was a mile out to sea, being in a Force 11 squall, rain pouring down and with some pretty big swell, it wasn’t the nicest of places to be. I just had to hope the others realized I was missing and would raise the alarm.
After 30minutes I saw a couple Lifeboats in the distance heading out towards me until they then changed direction, I then realized quite how difficult it was to see me…I knew I had to stay with my kit, as you are much more likely to be spotted rather than just a tiny head bobbing around! I also tried to fly the sail as much as possible to draw attention to myself and pushed the tail of my board down in the water so the nose came out and acted as a beacon. The RNLI and Frank Dunster from Hayling rescue saved my bacon and were very efficient and friendly. Cheers Guys!
In 2010, 118 windsurfers were rescued by the RNLI and I definitely haven’t seen many articles saying exactly what happened and how to prevent it from occurring again. I just hope my lucky escape can highlight how conditions can rapidly change and how important it is to respond in the correct manner to any dangerous situation.
What am I going to do next time I go windsurfing….?
- Carry on going windsurfing with friends.
- Continue to check the weather.
- Check the tides more carefully.
- Know where the nearest lifeboat station is and
- Know how I would raise the alarm.
Even though I was more than capable of coping with the forecast conditions I still got caught out – I hope you learn from my experience. Happy and safe windsurfing!!!
It’s a slight contrast seeing as I was 3rd In The BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) windsurfing advanced female fleet three days before!
Alex is taking part in the Bupa South Run raising money for the RNLI please support her!
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