Confession: My frantic phone call to the coastguard

In this month’s Confession, we hear how a fun day out impressing friends led to an abrupt end for one skipper

My love affair with boating started 12 years ago, when the only thing I knew about boats was that some had engines and other had sails. Cleats, fenders, and bollards were a foreign language to us.

However my partner Paulene fancied sunning herself on the pointy bit of a big white boat, so persuaded me, one weekend in early 2000, to try the RYA Powerboat Level 2 course in Lymington.

We spent an intensive weekend learning the basics of navigation and helmsmanship aboard a 40-knot twin-engine 400hp RIB.

It is safe to say that this is where we first got the boating bug. The following weekend we were looking around yacht brokers.

Within weeks we had our first boat, a 10-year old, 20ft Sea Ray cuddy called Soleil and Paulene liked the colour!

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We purchased her from Gibbs Boat Sales in Shepperton. Several weeks later, with contracts signed and bank accounts emptied, she was ferried by trailer to her new mooring in Brighton Marina.

All our friends wanted to go out in her so we invited six friends down for a trip out a few weeks later.

Extra lifejackets were duly purchased, but we didn’t have a VHF licence or a VHF for that matter.
Nevermind, we had mobile phones and we would be within sight of land at all times.

The weekend finally came and our friends arrived. The weather was perfect with the sun glinting off the rippling waves.

Once everyone was settled and the nibbles and drinks handed out, we set off. We left the marina and headed east towards Newhaven and Beachy Head. After an hour or so we had passed Newhaven and were approaching the Seven Sisters just before Beachy Head.

At this point we decided it might be an idea to turn back for the marina. I left Paulene at the helm and went to chat to some friends on the back seat.

A little while later my friend Cathy mentioned that we seemed a bit close to the cliffs.

I jumped up and asked Paulene very calmly to head out to sea. She duly obliged. (I may have taken artistic licence with the way this conversation actually went!)

Suddenly there was that awful sound that every boater dreads, the sound of propellers grinding on rock.

I grabbed the wheel, slammed the boat into neutral, let the boat drift for a bit and looked over the side. There were no visible rocks.

I pushed the throttle forward and the engine went into gear with a lot of vibration and no forward thrust.

Mild panic ensued and lots of, “Paulene weren’t you watching where you were going?” And from Paulene, “How am I meant to see underwater rocks?”

Eventually I thought the only option was to call 999. Luckily there was a signal and we were put through to the coastguard.

I explained our predicament, exact position, and the number of persons on board and we were instructed to drop the anchor. That’ll be the anchor we’ve never used then, I thought to myself.

Next question, “Was everyone wearing lifejackets?” I looked at my crew, “Yes” I said, motioning to Paulene to hand out the lifejackets.

With the anchor dropped, we sat and waited for the lifeboat to arrive. After what seemed like an eternity, our saviours arrived and towed us back to Brighton Marina.

Once we were tied up we were given a well-deserved lecture on why we should have a VHF radio and keep up to date charts handy.

We thanked them and made an immediate donation to the RNLI and made sure we’ve never had the need to call them again.

As for Paulene and I – well it took me a long time before I let her helm the boat again but we’re both fully qualified Day Skippers now.

Three boats later, we currently own a Bavaria 32 Sport and still love boating.

The author of every confession we print wins the original Stephen Shaw cartoon artwork (above) and an Icom IC-M23 Buoyant VHF Marine Transceiver handheld VHF radio worth £165.

For your chance to win, spill the beans on your funniest boating moments in 650 words. Email your story to:


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