Fun trip turns into lifesaving experience

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Text and photos by Vicki McLeod.

 

Every year since we moved to live in Majorca in 2004 my husband has wanted to take part in the canoe race around Dragonera.

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Three years ago he finally made it and our lovely neighbours, Nick and Diane Morgan invited my daughter and I to go out on their boat and follow the race.

Ever since then we have managed to repeat this: Oliver goes on a begged/borrowed/stolen canoe, and we follow and have some fun bobbing around on the sea.

This year, we thought, was to be no different.

The weather forecast for Sunday was that there might be some rain and lightning at some point but that this didn’t seem to put off the majority of the people.

As we set off to follow the race we were in good hands with skipper Nick Morgan who is a very experienced sailor.

Little did we know that Nick’s boat was going to have to live up to its original purpose, as a rough sea rescue boat. Coming along for the ride was Sandy and John, (both retired teachers), Ulrike (who works in Port Andratx in a doctor’s surgery), her partner, Tim (a builder) myself and my little girl who is eight.

It was at about this time that Oliver says that the kayaks, which had been moving towards the northernmost point of Dragonera, were told by the Guardia Civil Coastal to turn and go into the small harbour at Dragonera.

Already many of the people on the kayaks had taken tumbles into the roughening sea and were being rescued by small dinghies.

The coastguard was there to make sure that no kayaks were going around the back of Dragonera into the open black water as it had been deemed to be too dangerous due to the weather turning. Unwittingly the crew of the Flying Fish were about to become local heroes.

We didn’t realise that the race had been called off and as we approached the southernmost point of Dragonera we found kayakers struggling, and we were soon being waved at to come to the aid of an older couple who were both in the water hanging on to their boat.

As we hauled them aboard, I could see the big Guardia Civil boat looming up behind them; it must have gone around the back of the island to check there was no one in trouble. The ramshackle crew of Flying Fish all felt quite pleased with themselves.

As we rounded the point of Dragonera to head in towards Sant Elm we started to see more kayaks that were in distress. Within five minutes we had another couple on board. We turned to look behind us and saw the big Guardia Civil Coastal boat steaming off in the direction of Palma, it hadn’t followed us down the Easterly side of Dragonera and it didn’t get close enough to any of the kayakers to see if they needed help.

It was when we found a dad and two kids being blown against the rocky side of island that I think we all began to think this was getting a lot more serious. We got the kids and put them inside in the little cabin where they sobbed with fright and Gigi and Sandy took care of them.

We pulled person after person out of the water, soon the kayakers were sitting in the well of the rib or on the inflated tubes on either side holding hands and comforting each other.

I pulled a Spanish woman out of the sea who was floating in the water holding on to the paddle of her kayak. We needed her to swim a little towards us but she just didn’t seem to be able to manage it. I locked eyes with her and reached and reached for the paddle, as did Tim. We both got hold of it and she let go of it as if she was trying to hand the paddle to us. The shock, confusion and tiredness in her eyes was enough for me to get ready to jump into the water and grab her myself but the rib just bobbed close enough to her again and we managed to get hold of her.

Looking around none of us could understand why we had not seen any other boats out scouting for people who needed help. How could they have missed these people, a dozen and counting, that we had pulled out of the sea?

Eventually we managed to reach the quay in Sant Elm. We were not met by anyone with space blankets or given any sort of help, although there were a couple of Guardia officers there.

On the beach apparently more people were being treated for hypothermia, and if you read the press release the organisers think everything to do with the rescue operation went “perfectly”, well I disagree.

I truly believe that if we had not been there and done what we did that some of the people who we landed safely back on dry land would not have survived. No other boats (official or otherwise) came down the easterly side of Dragonera beside us and in my opinion that was their big mistake.

We rescued 16 people, 14 adults and two children on the morning of Sunday June 15.  That’s a testament to the skill, determination, teamwork and courage of a group of normal people that we were able to do what we did.  Now we really have good story to tell down the pub. 

 

The full version of this story is at www.familymattersmallorca.com

 

 

 

 

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