That sinking feeling: My holiday boat trip disaster

holiday boat trip disaster

by take-a-break |
Updated on

A boat trip seemed the perfect way to unwind on holiday with my fella, but at sea things took a dramatic turn. By Toni Gillam, 41

holiday boat horror
Me and Phil

As I checked in at the hotel reception, a notice behind the desk caught my eye.

Benagil Sea Cave boat trips, it read.

‘That seems perfect,’ I said to my fella Phil.

We were on holiday in the Algarve, Portugal, and wanted to book a couple of excursions. But as it was February and not high season, they were limited.

‘It’s that, and the tour of the sardine factory,’ I said, laughing.

‘Sounds fun,’ Phil replied.

It cost £52 for us both for the three-hour boat trip to see caves further along the coast, so I booked us in for a few days later.

Phil and I had been together for 18 months after meeting in our local pub. Our kids were grown up so we were able to get away and enjoy holidays together.

'I can't get my foot out!'

The morning of the boat trip was sunny. But despite the blue sky, I thought it might be chilly on the boat.

‘We’d better dress warm,’ I said to Phil.

I put on a top and leggings as well as a cardigan and jacket. Phil wore jeans, a hoodie and a coat on top.

We headed down to the marina and queued to board the 50-seater boat.

As we put on our life jackets, two elderly women approached us.

‘Excuse me, I think you’re in our seats,’ one said.

I checked my ticket.

‘Oh, sorry. You’re right. We’re supposed to be in front,’ I replied.

Holiday boat horror
on the boat

We moved, but as the boat set off, we noticed the tour guide moving people around.

‘We need to distribute the weight more evenly,’ he said.

‘They’re putting larger passengers to the back and the smaller ones to the front,’ I said to Philip.

‘It’ll be fine, don’t worry,’ he replied.

An hour into our trip, we arrived at the Benagil Cave. It was stunning, but as we came out of it again, I glanced back and gasped.

‘There’s water coming into the boat!’ I said to Phil.

In about 30 seconds, we were ankle deep.

I watched in horror as the tour guide grabbed a bilge pump and started to pump the water out. But it was pouring into the boat faster than he could remove it.

Everywhere, people were panicking, grabbing their bags and hanging on to their kids.

Then I noticed the engine starting to smoke.

‘Grab everything,’ Phil said.

'It'll sink and drag us both down!'

I stuffed my phone and purse into my bum bag and zipped it up.

By now the water was knee-deep.

Everyone was trying to get to the front as water continued pouring into the back and I could feel the boat starting to tilt backwards.

‘We need to inflate our lifejackets,’ I said to Phil.

I pulled the plastic lever but nothing happened.

‘Phil, it’s not inflating,’ I said.

‘Neither is mine!’ he replied.

As the boat sank beneath us, we were swept into the sea, but my foot got stuck in the boat rail.

‘Phil, I can’t get my foot out!’ I cried.

He dived under and frantically kicked my leg free.

‘Swim away from the boat,’ I gasped when he emerged again. ‘It’ll sink and drag us both down!’

We swam, but the weight of our heavy, winter clothes was threatening to pull us under.

Eventually, after about 15 minutes, we reached our tour guide and grabbed hold of his buoyancy aid.

All 36 people from the boat were now in the sea, bobbing around, but five of us had useless life jackets.

Then I spotted what looked like a tourist boat in the distance and felt relieved when it came towards us.

Holiday boat horror
Us in the water

They began pulling people aboard and Phil got close enough to grab the ladder and climb up.

But the swell of the sea kept washing me under, dragging me away from the boat.

‘Catch this!’ someone shouted, hurling a rope towards me.

With one last burst of energy, I reached out to catch it, I was hauled in and Phil grabbed my jacket and hoisted me on to the boat.

‘Put this round you,’ someone said passing me a towel.

I huddled underneath, shaking and exhausted.

In the distance our original boat was almost completely submerged.

Within half an hour we were back at the port, where ambulances were waiting for us.

‘My fingers are purple,’ I said to Phil.

‘Do you want to go to hospital?’ a Red Cross member asked us.

‘We just want a hot bath and to get into dry clothes,’ I replied.

‘Yes, and a beer,’ Phil added.

It was a relief to get back to the hotel. Phil had cuts and bruises on his legs from where he’d struggled to free my foot, but otherwise we were uninjured.

The next day, we sat on the beach, not daring to go into the sea.

It felt like a miracle that everyone on that boat had survived.

We also knew that if we hadn’t sat in the wrong seats, the two elderly ladies would’ve been the ones with the faulty life jackets.

They would never have survived. So everything happens for a reason.

We never found out why the accident happened and back home, in Hayling Island, Hampshire, we found out our holiday insurance didn’t cover us because we’d booked the trip through our hotel and not online. But we were safe and that was the main thing.

It hasn’t put us off travelling. We’ve already booked our next holiday to Antalya in Turkey.

But one thing’s for sure — there’ll be no boat trips this time!

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