Westport warning signs to be erected after rip current rescues

Westport was packed with visitors, both on the beach and in the water, on Sunday.
Westport was packed with visitors, both on the beach and in the water, on Sunday.

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Signs warning of dangerous rip currents in the sea at Westport beach are to be erected after a spate of recent rescues, some involving the Coastguard and RNLI.

Kintyre surfer Jimi McCallum made an urgent call for the signs after rescuing two children on body boards from the rip last Monday, just a day after a man, who was also using a body board, was swept out to sea.

Jimi told the Courier it is not unusual for members of the surfing community to rescue people from the sea at Westport, the biggest beach in mainland Argyll, stretching all the way to Machrihanish.

He said: ‘Each surfer rescues at least one person from the rip at Westport each summer. I rescue about five or six people a year. I think this is because the waves don’t break in the rip current so people think it’s safe. The rips are hard to spot and our rip here i unique.

‘A rip can appear anywhere, pretty much at any time, but the ones at Westport are fairly constant, and they shift as well, depending on what way the tide is going. If it’s going out it can take you north, towards the rocks, and if it’s coming in, it’ll take you south towards Machrihanish.’

Jimi said he has been lobbying for warning signs to be erected for years but after his latest rescue he contacted South Kintyre councillor John Armour for help.

Councillor Armour said: ‘After hearing of various incidents in the last couple of weeks, I spoke with Jimi about what could be done and agreed the basic requirement was warning signs in the car park at Westport and at the entrance to the beach at Machrihanish.

‘The problem of rip currents is something that, growing up in Kintyre, we were very aware of but as more tourists arrive they are, in many cases, not aware of the problem. They see a beautiful beach at Westport or Machrihanish and look to enjoy swimming in the sea unaware of the possible consequences of getting caught in the rip current.’

Jimi said: ‘Credit to Councillor Armour whose swift response prompted a meeting at Westport within days of me contacting him.’

Last Thursday, Jimi met with Robert Houston, station officer for Campbeltown Coastguard Rescue Team, Stuart Newlands, station officer for Southend Coastguard Rescue Team, Campbeltown RNLI coxswain David Cox, West Kintyre Community Council and West Kintyre Windfarm Trust convener Margaret Pratt and landowner Andrew Hamilton.

Jimi said: ‘They agreed to my proposal of a much-needed sign with information on the rip current danger and the location of the beach as the last people who phoned the Coastguard said they were at Machrihanish when, in fact, they were at Westport.’

Margaret said West Kintyre Windfarm Trust is ‘more than happy’ to fully fund the signs at the car park at Westport and on the track leading to the beach, adding: ‘It is important we do our utmost to help people enjoy our wonderful beaches in safety.’

Jimi pointed out he and his fellow surfers would never do anything to put themselves at risk and always phone the Coastguard if they think they could get into difficulty rescuing anyone.

‘We don’t take any chances,’ he said. ‘You don’t want to end up giving the Coastguard or lifeboat another person to have to rescue.’

A Coastguard spokesperson said: ‘It doesn’t matter how local or experienced you are, the sea can catch anyone out and be unmerciful when it does.

‘If you are caught in a strong current or rip tide, stay as calm as possible, raise your hand and shout for help. If you can’t get help, try and swim parallel to the beach until you are out of trouble then swim to the shore. If you can stand up, wade instead of swimming. Rip tides are very strong and can quickly tire swimmers out if they attempt to swim against it.

‘If you do see someone in trouble on the coast and are confident enough to make a rescue attempt, please ensure someone has dialled 999 Coastguard.’