Rescued surfer calls for more safety warnings in St Ouen’s Bay

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Kléber Chapon is calling for warning sirens and lights in the bay, as well as more information in the media about spring tides.

Earlier this month, a 14-year-old girl saved a novice surfer who had become detached from her board in large spring tides near the Watersplash and was being hit by waves rebounding from the sea wall.

Then in the same bay a few days later, a full-scale rescue operation involving three inshore lifeboats and a number of firefighters was launched after two men found themselves in a similar situation and failed to return to shore before sunset. The Coastguard was in the process of requesting a helicopter from Normandy to search for the pair when the surfers were guided to a slipway by a powerful light mounted on top of a fire engine.

And this week in St Helier, the skipper of one of the Elizabeth Castle ferries was forced to leap out of his vessel into the sea to rescue a woman who had become cut off by the tide on the attraction’s causeway. She was not able to swim and was up to her neck in water when she was saved.

Now, Kléber Chapon, who was rescued by an off-duty lifeguard at the Watersplash in August 2016, has said that more needs to be done to prevent such incidents happening. The finance worker’s ordeal took place just three days after Islander Joy Godfray died at Green Island when she was dragged out to sea in treacherous conditions.

Speaking after this month’s rescues about his own experience two years ago, Mr Chapon said: ‘On that morning, having spent nearly two hours surfing, I left the water around 9 am as the tide was reaching the steps at the Watersplash.

‘As I was walking through the water to the steps I noticed three girls with boogie boards and surfboards, who I thought were also about to leave the water.

‘I remember thinking to shout a warning to them about the danger of the rising tide, but chose not to do so – something that I still regret today.’

Mr Chapon added that while he was getting out of his wetsuit in the car park, he was approached by a panicked man who told him that there were three girls stuck against the sea wall and that he should put his wetsuit back on and get into the water to warn them.

‘After the man helped me back into my wetsuit, I ran down the steps and into the water, which was now up to chest high. Walking along the ledge at the base of the wall I managed to yell at the girls to “Get the f*** away from the wall”.

‘As they moved away from the wall, I turned to make my way back to the steps. At that moment I was picked up by a wave. I was swept metres away from the wall in a matter of a couple of seconds.’

The St Helier resident said that he began to get taken northwards by a rip current and, while caught in the backwash of the sea hitting the sea wall, signalled to the manager of the Watersplash for help.

He added that after what seemed like an eternity getting thrown around as if he was in a ‘washing machine’, an off duty lifeguard, Chantelle Coote, appeared on a rescue board and suggested that they paddle further out beyond the breaking waves.

‘During that paddle-out we were knocked from the board several times. Although remaining calm, I remember thinking I had also put her life in danger,’ he said.

‘We eventually made it out to sea and paddled up to Secrets, choosing to avoid the swell breaking onto Sands slipway.

‘At Secrets we were met by the duty lifeguards and quickly established that the three girls had been safely rescued. If it had not been for the actions of Chantelle and the availability, by pure chance, of a rescue board that had been left at the Watersplash, I am not sure I would be around today.’

Currently, anyone walking out to Corbière Lighthouse on a rising tide is warned by a siren to return to land when the causeway is about to be covered by the sea.

Mr Chapon, who has three children, said he thinks that a similar siren, a seaward-facing warning light and increased lifeguard cover in the early mornings and late evening – when spring tides and large swell are forecast – could help avoid the need for rescues, especially for tourists and novice surfers.

He also said that more warnings could be put out on both social and conventional media when such conditions are expected.

‘Nothing much seems to have altered in the bay since then [his rescue], apart from the ever-increasing numbers of surfers and swimmers – some of whom continue to enter the water blissfully unaware of the dangers posed by swell combined with a fast-rising tide meeting the seawall,’ he said.

‘The experiences reported in the JEP earlier this month seem remarkably similar to my own over two years ago.’

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