Kayak terror: ‘I feared I would never be rescued’

Malcolm Moffat with his stricken craft. Pic: Ian Georgeson

Malcolm Moffat with his stricken craft. Pic: Ian Georgeson

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A YOUNG dad today told of the terrifying moment he abandoned his kayak in the North Sea only to find he could not swim to shore.

Malcolm Moffat, 29, was just 300 metres from dry land when he jumped from the canoe off the coast of Dunbar, but found himself unable to move against the tide.

He could see people on the shore, but had no way of raising the alarm and was left stranded for more than hour in the choppy waters, not knowing if he would ever be rescued.

As each attempt to swim drained his energy and spirit, he said only the thought of his partner and two-year-old son at home in Prestonpans kept him going.

Mr Moffat, who owes his survival to his life jacket and drysuit, was finally picked up by a local fisherman responding to a coastguard call. When found, he was “drifting in and out of consciousness” and airlifted to hospital.

Recounting the ordeal today he said: “It’s an hour of my life that will stay with me forever.

“I was swimming just to stay still. When I started to be dragged back out away from shore it then crossed my mind that ‘hey, I could drown here, I might die’. I was swimming for ten minutes and stopping for ten, it was exhausting.

“There were bits when I felt ‘I cannae drown out here, I cannae stop, I need to keep going’.

“It’s really hard to say how long I was in the water for before someone spotted me. It was thoughts of my family that spurred me on.”

Mr Moffat had been 45 minutes into a solo fishing trip when disaster struck and his kayak started to sink on Sunday morning. He had paddled out from his favourite spot on Skateraw Bay when the specialist vessel started to leak, causing it to submerge within minutes and damaging his mobile phone so he could not call for help.

The chimney repairer, who lives with partner Kerilee Rowley and their two-year-old son Maximus, had only taken up the hobby about six months ago but had been out fishing for cod at least twice a month, for five hours at a time, and always checked the tides and forecast before setting out.

When he found himself unable to move the craft, he was forced to take the decision to abandon ship to stop it sinking completely under his weight.

He said: “I opened up one of the hatches in the hull and saw it was full of water, which has never happened before. I quickly realised that was it, it was sinking. It was scary but the only option I had was to go in the water.”

Initially, Mr Moffat clung to the canoe for support in the hope that someone would spot him in distress, but eventually he had to let go when he realised the damaged boat was drifting out with the tide.

He said: “I wasn’t too far out but I knew the tide was moving and it was hard to get anywhere. I was holding on to the kayak for a while just because it felt a bit safer, knowing that I had the kayak there.

“I was trying to get my bearings on different points of the land to try and tell which way I was moving and unfortunately I was going out the way. Because the kayak was full and heavy, that was pulling me so I had to bite the bullet and ditch the kayak.

“I didn’t want to do it but I had to. So I pushed away from the kayak and started to swim towards the shore but unfortunately my swimming wasn’t doing much, it was just swimming to stay in the same point.”

He added: “I tried to focus on land and keep swimming to try and get to the beach. I could see people on the shore and I was shouting for help but I didn’t know if they could see me or hear because obviously the waves were breaking in.

“I was about 300 metres out but I hoped someone would see me. It was frustrating but eventually a wee crowd gathered on the beach and I could see someone flashing their torch. I assumed that was for me and that they’d seen me.

“I felt a bit better and I could relax a bit more in the water and let my life jacket support me. It was a relief to know I didn’t have to swim anymore.”

A worried member of the public who had seen stricken Mr Moffat called 999. The coastguard was contacted at 10.56am and alerted any vessels in the area, while scrambling the lifeboats at the nearby Dunbar station.

He was eventually plucked out of the water by Brian Ball, a local fisherman, who had been out in his boat, Dignity.

The Good Samaritan took his coat off and wrapped it around Mr Moffat in a bid to warm him up before the RAF coastguard helicopter airlifted him to safety.

Mr Moffat said: “I had seen the boat coming out of nowhere. I turned around and saw him about ten to 15 metres away from me. It was a really good feeling.

“I could finally relax and stop tensing up. I’d been keeping swimming and moving for so long, it was a huge relief.

“The man put out an oar but I was struggling to hold on to it because I was so cold. He hauled me out of the water and into his boat.

“When I was pulled out of the water I was shaking and my muscles were spasming because I’d over-exerted myself. When I eventually stopped my muscles were cramping and I couldn’t stop shaking because of the cold.

“The helicopter arrived and I was winched from the boat. It was a bit strange but that’s when I knew I would be OK.”

Mr Moffat was flown to Borders General Hospital where he was treated for hyperthermia and underwent X-rays and blood tests.

His temperature had dropped to 55F – just above half what it should have been – after he had been partially warmed up by heat blankets in the helicopter.

Five hours later, Mr Moffat was discharged and happy to be on his way home. His stricken kayak was later recovered by the coastguard.

He admits he is lucky to be alive and put his survival down to having the right gear and the decent weather.

He said: “There was a wee bit of a swell, the conditions weren’t perfect but they weren’t bad.

“I think a lot of my survival was down to having the correct gear. If I didn’t have a life jacket on I would have been lucky to last ten minutes.

“I had my drysuit on but I had a lot of layers underneath to keep me warm but that’s why it was so hard to swim.

“I was making progress but it was very slow and I was getting more tired and cold. It would have taken a long time to get into shore, more time than I think conditions would have allowed.

“There were times when I feared I wouldn’t get rescued by anybody, that’s why I just kept swimming and swimming and swimming.

“Rather than stay still and hope to get seen, I thought ‘I have to put my foot down and get on with it’. I’ve obviously got a lot of people to thank, starting with Brian.”

A coastguard spokeswoman said people getting into difficulties in kayaks was common and advised people to carry a VHF marine band radio fitted with Digital Selective Calling where possible.

She said: “We would always advise kayakers to go out with all the right safety equipment, including a radio for distress calls, and safety flare to attract attention.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com