Sailing instructor suspended after sail training venture goes wrong

Portland Tidal Race rescue
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A red-faced sailing instructor said he 'totally understood' being suspended after leading four very experienced Laser dinghy sailors close to some of the most treacherous waters off the southern coastline of England, the Portland Tidal Race, which can run at eight knots during spring tides.

The Portland Tidal Race is caused by an underwater extension off Portland Stone into the English Channel, giving shallow waters and producing the Race which is a mere 10 metres deep and 2.4 kilometres long.

The sailors were carrying no communications and no distress beacons. The alarm was raised by one of the sailors' wives.

Local fishing boat the Tiger Lily and the Weymouth Inshore Lifeboat rescued the sailing instructor Jon Emmett and the four other ailors when they drifted towards the dangerous stretch of water. The five sailors were training for the world championships in San Francisco later this summer when the wind dropped and they drifted for two hours.

A Portland Coastguard spokesman said: 'The craft appeared to be making no headway and drifting south towards the Portland tidal race.'

Tiger Lily Skipper Chris Caines and his crew from Weymouth harbour found the five Laser dinghies 'on the edge of the race' and started towing them in before being helped in rescuing them by a rigid inflatable from the sailing academy and Weymouth Inshore Lifeboat.

Mr Caines said the group were trying to sail against the tide when he found them. He told the local news outlet the Dorset Echo: 'I went to see if we could find them and they were on the edge of the race. 'That can be one of the most treacherous stretches of water on the south coast.'

Mr Caines said without protective clothing the survival time in the water would have been around 20 minutes. He added: 'They were very lucky but it’s easy to get into trouble on a big spring tide.'

Jon Emmett - red-faced and 'totally understood'
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Following the rescue a Portland Coastguard spokesman advised sailors to have communications equipment and a motorised safety vessel on hand during dinghy training.

Mr Emmett said he 'totally understood' the decision to suspend him when he arrived back at the shore.

He said his group had gone outside of Portland Harbour as they needed to train on the waves but drifted when the wind died. He said they had warm clothing and food and maintained that there was 'no chance' of anybody falling into the water.

He said he has been sailing in the area since 1984 and many of the men he was with have been sailing for longer.

He said: 'Unfortunately the wind died for two to three hours and we ended up drifting out. It was very regrettable. But there was no indication that was going to happen.If it’s going to be cold and windy you take a means of communication. But there’s a lesson to be learnt.'

Mr Emmett thanked Mr Caines and the RNLI and said he was planning to make a £150 donation to the charity.

Portland Tidal Race can run up to 8 knots - photo by Mark Watson
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