the painful rescue

This posting is for G and J, two very good friends of ours. G is a regular commentator on the blog and reminded me recently of a trip we’d made to Portugal perhaps 10 years ago, where J and I helped a woman in trouble in the surf. The memory of it brings tears to my eyes, not because it was a notably joyous and life-affirming moment, but rather because the rescue technique was a little painful….

J worked with me at Cellnet at the time. It was before G and J had their kids and the four of us we were heading out for a week-end break to the Tivoli Almansor, a 4* hotel perched on cliffs in Carvoeiro on the Algarve. I think G had found the hotel via BA’s Airmiles scheme and I have to say it’s one of the most stunning settings for a hotel I’ve ever seen. We’d been to the Algarve before and really liked it but each time we had gone with our daughters and with other friends and their kids and had therefore stayed in villas as the most cost-effective and space-generous solutions. So we had no knowledge of decent hotels in the area and just trusted G’s judgement with the booking. We weren’t to be disappointed.

First impressions as you approach the hotel entrance on the land side are that it’s a simple, unremarkable two storey complex. But the real surprise came once we had checked in and shown to our rooms, when it becomes apparent that the main body of the hotel cascades down a steep cliff with stunning views out from the bedroom to the surrounding cliffs, the ocean and the deep-lying private beach at the base of the cliffs. This is accessible via steep steps and increasingly precarious ladders clinging to the cliff side. We’ve been to the hotel several times and on each occasion we return the ladders and steps have been re-styled and re-built as they receive such a pounding from the sea. They are just visible in this shot of the hotel taken ocean side:

The beach is quite small especially at higher tides but at low tide it’s possible to access some stunning blow-hole caverns carved out of the crumbling cliffs by the powerful Atlantic Ocean. These pepper the cliffs around the town.

One morning, with the tide really low, we’d all gone out to the large cavern which is visible in this shot taken from the bedroom. It is a spectacular sight and believe it or not the sea has pounded a blow hole from the roof of the cavern straight through the rock to create a hole all the way to the top of the cliff. It must be 200ft high at that point. And it’s possible to peer over the lip of this huge hole walking on top of the cliffs – I feel nauseous just at the thought of it. Anyway in the afternoon whilst the girls were sunning themselves up at the pool area J and I had spent a couple of hours snorkelling the clear blue sea in the cove. We hadn’t really noticed the tide coming in quite dramatically. I’m not a particularly strong swimmer and once we realised that the swell was picking up and starting to crash into the base of the cliffs we headed back towards the fast-disappearing beach and lower ladder.

We got back to it without alarm although I lost my snorkle as I grabbed the ladder whilst trying to swim on the crest of a wave. We spent several minutes watching the snorkle disappear time again into the undermined areas at the base of the cliffs then re-appear as we tried to catch it on the ebb flow. But the tide was getting stronger and we never did recover it. However we then heard this woman’s voice – she’d been swimming further out to sea and was just making it back. The beach had now disappeared and at least 5 of 6 of the bottom rungs on the ladder. She was beginning to look a little tired from the effort of fighting the huge ebb and flow of the currents in this restricted tiny cove.

It occurred to J and I that if she came in now and missed the ladder she’d be sucked into the now flooded caves at the cliff base just like the snorkel. Neither J nor I fancied having to jump in to try and rescue her from there. The sharp and jagged rocks, so prominent at low tide, were now submerged too and could be a real problem. We shouted at her to get to the ladder as quickly as possible but I sensed she was becoming frightened of the caves and the rocks. J and I clambered down the ladder as far as possible holding out our hands and encouraging her to swim in and make a grab for the ladder or our arms. She had one go and nearly went under then got pulled back out by the rip current. I was starting to feel really concerned for her and reached as far out from the ladder as I could. This time she came in on the swell really fast. She missed my clutches and hit heavily against the ladder against her back. She was about to get sucked under and I made a snatch for her swimsuit top. But I couldn’t immediately get a grip. However she thrust out her hand and with a desperate lunge grabbed hold of the only thing in her reach – my genital area. Boy she clung on, literally for dear life.

I was able to grab her swimsuit and pulled her onto the ladder and she eventually let me go once she realised she was safe. I don’t know how long she had a death grip on me but it must have been 30 seconds at least and although I was pumped up with adrenaline I was unable to climb those ladders for a few minutes. It is the most delicate of pain sensations and she was locked on like a grip from a rottweiler’s jaws. She was spluttering and desperate to catch her breath but she was extremely apologetic and more than a little grateful for my heroic little johnson and his mates. I was sore but proud of the lads.

When we got back to the pool area to tell the girls what had happened they just laughed hysterically. Bloody typical. It’s not every day that your meat and two veg get to play local hero.



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