Up a creek with no water to paddle
Practical Boat Owner|September 2021
Mike Humphreys calls on his ingenuity and practical skills to rescue a family marooned on a mud bank by the falling tide
Mike Humphreys

The yacht club on the Humber was the way I liked it best. The racing crowd had chased each other around the buoys, berthed their boats, had a beer at the bar, packed their cars and departed.

Then I often had the place to myself again. But there’d be no racing today, as it was a mid-week working day. I was on holiday and doing some long-overdue work on my boat. I left the creosoted work shed, walked into the warmth of the day, and blinked in the sunlight, before strolling past a row of unlaunched yachts.

The tide was right out and the deep and sticky grey mud was exposed. Non-boat owners and non-sailing visitors did not like the mud, but our deep-keeled sailing boats were held safely in their grip and owners could climb their masts with security. I glanced casually around, and to my surprise noticed an unfamiliar small sailing yacht perched on top of a grey mud bank.

It had four people in it. They’d clearly missed the marked safe channel as they came in, and were now marooned too many yards from the shore to reach it.

Attempting to walk in the mud would not only be messy, but it could be dangerous. This was deep, sinking mud, in which you could easily sink up to the knees or further. In theory, someone trapped there alone could drown at high water.

No one who knew the creek would have gone near that corner, and so they must be visitors.

A middle-aged man and woman and two young women sat miserably in the small cockpit. They’d obviously run aground on the bank when it was submerged, probably late on the tide that morning, and were trapped until it returned. It was going to be a long wait! They were within earshot, and so I asked them, “How long have you been stuck there?”

“Too long!” was the man’s reply, and he added. “Is there any way for us to get off? We’re desperate!” It was immediately obvious that their most urgent need was for toilets.

“And we haven’t got anything to drink,” added the older woman, who I presumed was the man’s wife and mother of the two younger women.

I thought it would be easy enough for me to fill something with water, but I had no idea how it could be passed to them. But even if it was successful, it wouldn’t help them with their more pressing problem. I forgot about the water and ran quickly through a few rescue ideas.

No idea was good if it involved things that were not immediately to hand. For instance, a couple of long extending ladders tied together, if we had some. But how would I manage such a long and heavy contraption on my own? It was sure to end up in the mud, and would they like to balance on narrow and bending shaky ladders? Would the ladders take the strain of the heavier parents? Or could I make a walkway from scaffolding boards – even if I had some? But they too would soon have pressed down into the mess and become muddy and dangerously slippery.

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