“Will my daddy drown?”
In the midst of a storm, a child’s small voice could just be heard:
“Will my daddy drown?”
It may be sunny outside, but the weather can play tricks on us all – and my letter to you today will show just how helpless it can leave us.
On a crisp and clear Christchurch morning, four small children boarded their cherished family boat, called the Joka. They headed out with their parents to Little Port Cooper – a secluded, heart-shaped bay with a small beach, at the mouth of Lyttelton Harbour.
Gary and Alishia were the proud parents, with their sons Ozaya (6), Karlo (4) and baby Axel. Also on board were family friend James, and his six-year-old son Dylan.
They glided across the sea and dropped anchor in Little Port Cooper bay.
The kids played happily on the beach, had a picnic and did all the things that small children love so much. But time ran away with them, and their boat became stranded after the tide went out.
Gary checked his watch. He knew they were in for long wait; it would be 7pm before the tide turned. And then the weather dramatically changed. A strong, cold southerly bombed over the hills and swept down across the harbour. The temperature plummeted; rain and sleet followed.
The family sheltered on the beach and then, just as soon as the tide was high enough, they rushed to board their boat. But as they made their way gingerly out into the main harbour and away from the shelter of the bay, they realised just how ferocious the conditions had become.
They rounded a headland and were almost engulfed by the raging waves.
“It just got crazy,” Gary said. “I thought, we’re better off at the beach – because we came pretty close to losing everything.”
Alishia tied the four little children together, looping a rope through each of their lifejackets, as they feared they would all be washed overboard.
They turned their boat round, made it warily back to the bay, and tumbled out onto the beach. Their clothes were wet and freezing and they had no way to get home. But, crucially, Alishia managed to get a “scratchy” phone call out to her dad, who called for emergency help.
The crew aboard Canterbury Rescue launched from their base at Naval Point just after 9pm. They arrived twenty minutes later; volunteer skipper, Paddy, could just see a flickering torch waving dimly from the beach.
Gary, Alishia, James and the children were found huddled against the wind and rain, trying to keep warm by a fire. James could no longer speak clearly, as the chilling effects of hypothermia began to grip him. His son looked on as his dad shivered violently.
The rescue boat pulled up close to the beach. One by one, the rescue crew waded through the rough seas, climbed up to the shelter, and carried the shivering children out to safety. Axel the baby was taken on board first, and quickly swaddled in a warm blanket.
The crew then returned to pick up two of the adults. They refloated the Joka, gave Gary a survival suit to wear and helped him skipper the boat home.
Nicola Hockley, Coastguard volunteer and navigator during the rescue, was charged with keeping the children calm and warm. As they looked back across the rough sea to the Joka, which was following in the churning waves, one of them asked: “is my daddy going to drown?”
The weather in Lyttelton Harbour was so bad that it took Paddy and the crew over two hours to travel just five nautical miles, or roughly 10 kilometres. It was a rough trip, carefully taken.
But under the expert care of the Coastguard volunteers, everyone made it safely back to shore. 20 concerned friends and family members had gathered with hot tea and dry clothes.
The outcome for the families could have been so different. After the rescue, Gary paid tribute to the role the Coastguard volunteers played in keeping the children safe: “Keeping everyone calm in a stressful situation is just gold, really.”
This summer, Coastguard volunteers near you are giving their time to save others.
When volunteer rescue crews like Paddy’s go out on rescues, they do so protected from the worst of the weather in special rescue gear. But with over 2,200 Coastguard volunteers, that’s a lot of seaboots, lifejackets and wet weather clothes!
With the summer boating season here, our volunteer crews throughout the country are involved in more rescues. The weather will always be unpredictable; they’ll experience rough seas, gales and cold biting southerlies.
Today, your donation will provide protective gear to keep them safe and protected, so they can bring families like Gary’s home to safety.
A full set of rescue and safety gear for one of our volunteers costs over $700. Whilst this is not inexpensive, it’s a great investment in our proud Kiwis, who risk their own lives to save others.
Please will you give a gift today? It will help protect one of our amazing crew.
Your gift will mean a volunteer can tighten their jacket collar against the rain, and simply get on with the job – thanks to your support.