Having been a water baby myself, and much of my childhood taken up in, on or by the water, by rivers and streams and the sea, I love and yet am wary of the element. I have always been safe, thank goodness, and perhaps because I’m not really a risk taker, and also the slow-moving River Cam which was my childhood playground didn’t have many dangers – although people did come to grief. Going to the seaside when I was a child I had watchful parents, and also the beaches we went to were fairly safe – although nowhere is 100% safe for children… I remember going on a boat when I was quite small, maybe four or five; I have no idea where it was, possibly round the Wash, one of the largest estuaries in the UK. It is fed by five rivers, and I remember how we learned their names in our geography classes, a little rhythmic phrase ‘the Witham, the Welland, the Nene and the Ouse, all run into the Wash’. The Ouse is the Great Ouse. On my little trip out with my dad into the wash I had to put on a life-jacket which infuriated me as I could swim, I kept telling them, I could swim!
Water features a lot in my novels, mostly the sea, and people come to grief in it quite frequently. In real life tragically people do lose their lives often I have to say through their own stupidity. Perhaps being a water baby I respect the element, some people maybe never see it except coming out of a tap – we had friends who visited who were astonished by tides – that the sea went out, and then it came back, and that happened every day twice! We have a very high tide, here in Weston, and all along the bay, beyond the sand, is deep dangerous, sucking mud, especially down our end where the River Axe flows into the sea. There have been several tragedies, despite all the huge warning signs and the best efforts of rescuers.
Just a couple of days ago, a party of about thirty schoolboys narrowly escaped death thanks to the RNLI – the Lifeboat Institute rescued them from drowning off the Sussex coast; they had gone for a walk, ignored several signs of danger and ended up trapped by the sea… idiots!
I read some statistics about recent tragic losses at sea, in 2015, 385 people were rescued from potentially fatal situations, sadly 168 were not so fortunate and lost their lives. Over half of them had been walking or running (36), climbing or fishing near the sea when they were swept away. The figures showed more people had died while walking or running along the coast (36) than any other activity, whereas boating or sailing was 16 people… although sadly another 39 died by what was described as ‘commercial use of the water’. The previous years show that 2015 was not unusually:
- 2011 – 164
- 2012 – 163
- 2013 – 167
- 2014 – 163
In my latest Radwinter novel, Beyond Hope, the main character Thomas jumps into the sea to rescue a woman; it is particularity dangerous as it is where a river joins the sea, a river in flood:
The woman fell sideways, like a stone into the water beneath and then the man raised his arm… Hell! He’s going to shoot me and I yelled and jumped sideways into the boiling river.
It wasn’t deep and I fell painfully onto the stony bottom and was tumbled along by the surging water, trying to swim with it, grabbing for the woman. The powerful incoming tide and the rush of the outgoing river surged over me and I was coughing and spluttering, struggling for breath, trying to keep my head above water. I was swimming as hard as I could, hampered by clothes and shoes, dragged along by the sucking sea. The dark shape of the woman was terribly still, rolled in the powerful tide, a dark blob, no flailing arm, no cries for help…
Afterwards I was retrospectively terrified by what I’d done…. swimming here at any time would be criminally stupid but in the dark on an incoming tide and the river in flood, rip tide, rip current, drowned mother and children….
I grabbed the clothing of the inert woman as we were rolled over in the water and I admit it was at this point that sense took over from instinct and I realised my perilous situation… thoughts of my children flashed in my mind like a kaleidoscope montage … I can’t drown, I can’t! and I fought my way back to the shore against the strong and relentless pull of the rip.
I don’t know how I managed it but I swam as I never had before and suddenly I was out of it and the tide was dragging me into the shore. I felt as if I couldn’t go on much longer, at the end of my strength, and then I connected painfully with the sand.
Someone grabbed me by the shoulders and heaved me out, still clinging to the unmoving body….
If you haven’t read my story – here is a link: