AN emergency rescue in 20-foot waves saved a team of canoeists attempting a cross –Channel paddle in army canoes for charity this week.
A canoe had to be abandoned at sea after capsizing in worsening conditions 25km into the 200km crossing, recreating the route taken by D-Day boats 70 years ago.
The six-man team left Portland Marina in Dorset in 25-knot winds in two-man army canoes, waved off by a crowd of supporters, knowing that weather conditions were set to deteriorate further.
Hereford’s Stuart Gilks said: “Weather conditions were of great concern, as they were forecast to be worsening.
“It was decided to launch as planned and endure the poor conditions for the first three to four hours and then continue on, into improving conditions for the remainder of the crossing.”
Conditions held up well to the first checkpoint, just over 10km out of the harbour, but as they turned towards their second checkpoint, just north of the shipping lanes, the team noticed rain and thunderstorms coming in from the west.
Mr Gilks said: “During this leg that the wind, waves and swell all became more challenging - it was clear it was going to be difficult for the support boat to administer us when required, if the conditions didn’t improve.”
Now four hours in, the swell was rising to more than six metres in height, with waves breaking over the top of the canoes as the group moved out of the relative shelter provided by Portland Island.
The team took the decision to load one of the canoes onto the support boat, however due to wind and height of the waves this proved extremely difficult.
Concerned that if conditions worsened any further, it would make a similar recovery almost impossible they decided to secure all the canoes.
The ocean, however, had other ideas.
Mr Gilks said: “During the recovery of the remaining two crews , we lost the two canoes.
“We recovered the first crew, but their canoe was now upside down alongside the support boat.
“Many attempts were made to secure the canoe and get it on board the support boat, but with the third crew now capsized and in the water 100 meters away, the priority was to recover them.”
To make matters worse, the third canoe had filled with water.
The third crew, who had remained near their vessel, were brought onto the support boat, however their canoe was now so heavy it was fast becoming too difficult to manoeuvre.
After several attempts a line was attached to its towing point, but with the weight and the weather, this soon broke.
The team abandoned it, and headed for safety.
“Due to the relentless and worsening conditions the only solution was to head back to Portland,” said Mr Wilks.
“Whilst we are extremely disappointed that we were not able get across to join in with the commemorations at Arromanches, we are planning to launch a further attempt before the end of this year.”
Visit www.normandyklepperchallenge.co.uk for information on the six charities the voyage will raise money for, and news on when the team will attempt the crossing again.