A teenager drowned during a Bank Holiday outing on a pleasure cruiser with her family when they were hit by a freak wave, an inquest has heard.
Gillian Davey was trapped in the cabin of the boat when it capsized off the north Cornwall coast after being struck by a 6ft (2m) “wall of water”.
The inquest in Cornwall heard that the 17-year-old and her parents were returning to Padstow after cruising around the coast when tragedy struck in the Camel Estuary at around midday on May 25 this year.
Gillian’s father, Stefan, was navigating the notoriously tricky Doom Bar sandbank at the mouth of the estuary when the incident happened.
The court heard that Mr Davey was thrown into the water, while his wife, Caroline, and daughter were trapped in the cabin.
A passing patrol boat driven by Leon Burt, from Padstow Harbour Commissioners, saw the aftermath and went to help.
Mrs Davey was able to free herself and was rescued by Mr Burt, while her husband swam to the capsized vessel and could hear his daughter tapping on the side of the hull.
An attending RNLI crew were able to use a rope to pull the boat horizontal but, by the time Mr Davey was able to free his daughter, she had lost consciousness.
She died later in hospital and a post-mortem examination put her death down to drowning.
The inquest heard that the family had bought the Norma G leisure cabin cruiser and carefully renovated it, equipping it with a radio and life jackets.
Giving evidence, Mr Davey, an experienced sailor, said the conditions were calm.
“As we made a turn, I remember looking back over my shoulder to see a massive wall of water just straight onto the back of the boat,” he told the court.
“I had time to shout ‘Look out’, and with that it turned us straight over. I would say the water was two metres high.”
After being thrown into the water, Mr Davey, a company director from Wadebridge, tried to rescue his daughter.
“Every time I dived down I just couldn’t get enough air to get to where Gillian was,” he said.
“I was banging on the side of the boat and I could hear Gillian banging back and talking and shouting.”
After the RNLI arrived and pulled the boat horizontal, Mr Davey was able to get inside and pull Gillian free.
Giving evidence, Mr Burt said the Doom Bar is “very dangerous” and should only be navigated by someone with local knowledge.
“The Bar can become very dangerous with wind, tide and swell, and if there are any signs of breaking waves it is best to set the anchor,” he added.
Detective Constable Simon Hill, of Devon and Cornwall Police, who investigated the incident, said Mr Davey was an experienced sailor who had navigated the Doom Bar previously.
“The police sent a drone up on a similar day and the footage does show a very calm channel and then suddenly the waves can be very different over the Bar.
“Everybody I spoke to said one minute it can be benign and the next minute quite treacherous.”
Andrew Cox, acting senior coroner for Cornwall, praised the efforts of everyone who helped the Davey family that day.
Recording a conclusion of accidental death, he said: “If Mr Burt and others had not been there this incident could have been far worse.
“I have been struck at just how this could happen to a family who have obviously paid such close attention to detail in making the sure the vessel was seaworthy and ready to go to sea, both in the sense of the physical construction of the boat and in the safety steps taken of those on board.
“This is as far from the reckless, ill-considered incident that I have to deal with from time to time that it is possible to imagine.
“What has happened here is that a family who have taken every reasonable step have still been caught out by the weather and sea conditions on the day.
“I am desperately sorry that is the case.”
Help us to become independent in PANDEMIC COVID-19. Contribute to diligent Authors.