We were ten with Rob as the leader. The wind was ESE 10kn with gusts of 15kn. The swell was 2-3m with peaks of 4m. The period of the swell was 13 seconds. As we travelled south along the cliffs the rebound was keeping the water interesting. There were waves intersecting each other, waves nullifying each other and waves adding their heights onto each other. Even though we travelled mainly against the swell there were rebounds a couple of hundred meters off the cliffs that gave you a little ride.
After approximately 1 hour going south and with daylight almost gone we turned and started the way back with the following seas. Probably half way back, while I was paddling on the sea side of the group riding a nice wave, about 15 meters from me I saw a kayak capsize by the coast and the paddler wet exit. I started a wide turn to approach Neil and help him into his kayak from the coast side, as to have the wind in front of me. When I had almost completed the turn my boat was impacted by another kayak that went a ¼ of his boat over my back deck. While trying to free Bob’s boat from the top of mine he also went down and did a wet exit.
Suddenly with the dark looming, some 200 meters from the cliffs with swell and wind pushing us toward the coast, we had 2 swimmers and their boats very close to each other, no more than 1 meter apart, going up and down as the waves passed. My first thought when I saw both of them so close was to try and separate them to prevent injuries in the moving water. I called Neil to grab my bow but he was not answering. I called a few times and was starting to think he was somehow impaired when he grabbed my bow’s toggle. Later I discovered that because of the noise, the cold water and probably my accent he didn’t understand what I was telling him. Anyway, once he grabbed my bow I told him to grab his kayak with his other hand and I towed him away from Bob and his kayak. The problem now was that we were 25 meters closer to the cliffs, 10 meters from the tow and another 15 from drifting and the cliff wall looked dark and high. I was going to empty the water from his kayak but seeing that his electric pump was already doing its job I concentrated in helping him into the boat. Once he got inside I pulled from his paddle leash to reach his paddle and the leash broke and the paddle drifted away.
In the meantime Rob had instructed those in the group that were not directly engaged in the rescues to paddle further offshore. The idea was to provide more margin for drift and minimize the effects of the rebound on them. While Bob was helped by Megan, somehow they were drifting faster than we were, as we were in the inside they collided against us but with no consequence other than pushing us closer to the rocky coast.
I called for someone to get the paddle that was drifting away from us when I realized that Mark had attached his tow line to Neil’s kayak and was holding our position with respect to the cliffs. As Neil’s paddle was far from us now, David rafted up (“docking” side by side) with us and gave Neil his spare paddle, but the angle of this paddle was very different to Neil’s usual paddle. Once Neil had his skirt in place and the spare paddle in his hands we separated.
After Rob had ensured that Mark had safely hooked up the tow on Neil's boat, he paddled over to help Megan move Bob out to sea using a contact tow (a quick short distance towing technique). He tried to reach Bob’s kayak for that but a wave separated the kayaks away and when Rob extended his hand the other kayak wasn’t there anymore. He capsized. He tried to roll up but his shoulder got stuck under Bob’s boat. Somehow he managed to complete the roll. It was good it wasn’t his head that bumped against the other kayak hull!
During the rescue my paddle’s blades had twisted so I stayed behind to set it correctly and at this moment Neil fell in again. This time however he managed to roll up but now he was cold, worn out and demoralized by the last capsize so Rae and Shaan rafted up with him to set a long distance tow. Shaan had recovered Neil’s paddle before and while she was in the raft preparing the tow with this extra paddle in her posession, her own paddle was taken adrift by the water. Rob was a few boats lenght behind the raft. He had just recoverd from the roll when he saw a fluorescent thing floating by his side. That fluorescent thing was a mark on Shaan's paddle and he managed to fish it out while still involved with Megan on Bob's rescue.
After that it was an uneventful return with a tow.
As Rob said in the wrap up after we all landed and changed it was good that in the group we had the skills that we regularly practice to cope with the situation. Another point was how quickly the leeway between us and the cliffs evaporated with the swell and wind pushing us in that direction and how quickly the resources of the group can be tied up. The GPS showed that we dirfted 60 meters in 5 minutes that lasted the whole episode.
Personally, I should have been more attentive to kayaks coming from behind when I turned but the truth is that eventhough I knew they were bahind me, I saw Bob no more than a second before he seal landed on my boat. I also should have double checked that Neil was ok to paddle by himself before letting him go, but again, my mind was more worried about the closing distance to the cliffs than the fact that he was in a kayak stilll pumping out water, a sea condition that had knocked him over once and now with a paddle that was strange to him. Another point is that I was not carrying my tow line nor a spare paddle as I had taken them off last time I used the kayak in a surf session, but I should have. I was trusting the group when I should have been prepared regardless.
All in all an interesting night of mishaps that thankfully didn’t evolve into accidents.