Ilfracombe RNLI lifeboats were launched on Saturday (May 4) to rescue a group of kayakers who had got into difficulties in bad weather in Combe Martin bay with three metre waves.

Both Ilfracombe lifeboats on their way to Combe Martin to help a group of 10 kayakers. Picture: RNLI/IlfracombeBoth Ilfracombe lifeboats on their way to Combe Martin to help a group of 10 kayakers. Picture: RNLI/Ilfracombe

The volunteer crews launched the Shannon class all-weather lifeboat The Barry and Peggy High Foundation at just after 5pm following reports a number of kayakers had capsized and were in the water near Combe Martin.

The inshore lifeboat (ILB) The Deborah Brown II was launched a few minutes later. Although the day was sunny, weather out at sea had deteriorated during the afternoon and sea conditions in Combe Martin Bay were rough with the combination of high spring tides and force 6 (25-30 mph) north westerly winds driving steep three metre waves.

The alert was raised by the owner of a local kayak hire firm who was out leading a kayaking trip with a colleague and a group of clients when he saw a number of kayakers get into difficulties. He used his radio to send a Mayday alert and also sent his colleague ashore to dial 999 and ask for the coastguard.

The Mayday call was heard by Ilfracombe Sea Safari vessel Lundy Explorer, which was close by. The crew, one of whom is also a member of Ilfracombe RNLI, used their mobile phone to raise the alarm.

The Lundy Explorer was first on scene. The crew saw two people in the water holding onto a kayak. The people were in distress and cold having been in the water for more than 30 minutes and were taken on board. The Lundy Explorer stayed on scene and provided reassurance to the other kayakers that the lifeboat was on its way.

The all-weather lifeboat arrived five minutes later and found a kayaker in the water holding on to the back of a kayak with a person on-board. One of the crew entered the water and swam to reassure and assist them. The lifeboat then manoeuvred alongside and was able to lift the casualty on-board using the A frame hoist.

A second kayaker was then seen in distress lying on their back on a kayak being buffeted by the large waves. The all-weather lifeboat drew up as close as they could to the female kayaker and the volunteer crew member was again deployed and swam to assist her and was able to pull her in close to the lifeboat where she was lifted aboard and the kayak also taken on-board.

Both casualties were extremely cold having been in the water for more than 20 minutes without wetsuits and were taken into the wheelhouse to be assessed and to warm up.

The ILB also arrived on scene and went to the assistance of another kayaker who was struggling in the waves and strong current. The kayaker and the kayak were taken onboard and were taken onto Combe Martin beach where they were safely taken onshore.

Five other kayakers managed to make it ashore without the assistance of the lifeboats.

Both lifeboats returned to Ilfracombe at 6pm where the casualties were treated by paramedics for hypothermia. No further medical assistance was required and they were able to return home a short while later.

One of the casualties said: "It was so cold and the water was crazy. I just want to say a huge thank you to the RNLI, its amazing that these guys are all volunteers."

Coxswain Andrew Benjey said: "When the lifeboat arrived on scene we could see a group of about 10 kayakers, which we subsequently discovered were from different groups, struggling in the large waves and strong winds.

"Apparently a couple of people got into difficulties and other kayakers came over to help and then got into difficulty themselves. The sea conditions were very rough and we would urge people to check the weather before setting out to sea on kayaks or other crafts.

"The situation today could have been a lot worse if people had not been wearing buoyancy aids which certainly helped keep people alive. We would also advise people to wear wetsuits at this time of year as although the weather can be sunny the sea temperatures are still cold, and if you capsize into cold water even in summer it is still possible to get cold water shock.

"It's important to remember to float to survive and to stay with your kayak or board as this will not only help to keep you afloat but also make you easier to see.

"We would also recommend people take a mobile phone in a waterproof bag or other means of raising the alarm. It was fortunate today the kayakers were seen by a member of the public out on the water who had a radio to call for help.

"We would also like to recognise the crew of the Lundy Explorer, who were of great assistance and helped the RNLI in their work to save lives at sea."