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The party of seven had sailed in a dinghy and a small, rigid inflatable boat around Stepper Point in North Cornwall to Butter Hole Beach for a picnic. According to the Guardian, Tim Humfrey, one of members of the rescued group, said that the families had gone to the cove on "another idyllic sunny day." Conditions had been prime for sailing, but the swell began to increase and the tide started to rise. "By the time we decided to get everything together to leave, the swell and the waves were fairly serious," explained Humfrey. The group decided it was too dangerous to launch back into the ocean, especially with children in tow.
Since they had neither phone reception nor a two-way radio, and they knew their voices would be drowned out by the waves crashing onto the rocks, they tried a rather rudimentary tactic, writing "send for help" in the sand. It took just minutes for someone walking along the cliff above them to spot the message and call for help.
As the swell continued to dump onto the beach, Rock Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) volunteers and the Padstow Coastguard team were alerted, swiftly arriving and taking the party off in two groups. In an RNLI press release, Mike Hewitt, RNLI volunteer Lifeboat Operations Manager at Rock, said it was a treacherous rescue. "There was the ever-present threat of the lifeboat being swamped or capsized by the dumping seas," he explained. "The group made a very sensible decision not to try launching their boats into the building seas, but they were lucky that a passing walker noticed the message calling for help written in the sand."
Humfrey said that next time (there's really going to be a next time?) they'll be better prepared. Hewitt wants to remind sailors to have a viable communication option with them, like a VHF radio. "Be aware of local conditions, too," he added. "Big waves can suddenly develop around here when the tide starts to come in."
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Also on Wednesday, the families thanked the Rock RNLI crew, presenting them with beer and promising a donation to the group, which relies on public donations for its rescue missions. "We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the RNLI and the coastguard for doing an amazing job," Humfrey said. Yes, they do.
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