Stricken Sidmouth Boxing Day swimmers thank rescuers

EXCLUSIVE: Uncle tells how “freak” tide swept him and niece 100 feet across beach and on to rocks during festive dip.

A STRICKEN swimmer has praised rescuers who pulled him from choppy seas as he battled to save his niece during Sidmouth’s traditional Boxing Day dip.

Barry Curwen, 53, described how a “freak” tide pulled him and his young relative 100 feet across the beach and swept them onto rocks.

The pair were among half-a-dozen people, from of a record turn-out of 380, treated for cuts and bruises when they got into trouble during Wednesday’s festivities.

Sidmouth Lifeboat crew and bystanders rushed to help those struggling.

Strong swimmer Barry, of Knowle Drive, went after his niece when a wave washed her out of her depth.

“It was a freak tide,” he said. “Once you were off your feet it was impossible to swim against. It was pulling me towards the rocks before I knew it.

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“My only concern was for my niece. I could see her struggling, but couldn’t get close enough to even get a hand on her.

“Luckily, she was washed high up onto the rocks. I whacked my head and lost all my strength.

“I’m extremely grateful to the people that pulled me out as I’d have struggled on my own.”

Barry, who has only missed the swim once in the last decade, vowed to return next year – but will double check the weather conditions first.

“It is fun and shouldn’t be marred by a little incident,” he said.

“The right people were on hand to make sure this didn’t develop into anything worse.

“It is a well organised event. What happened was just very unfortunate.”

Barry, who was sporting a Save Our Sidmouth (SOS) t-shirt for the swim, said he looked back on the incident with a sense of humour.

“I suffered a few cuts and bruises – it was more my pride that was hurt,” he joked.

“The lengths people will go to to promote SOS– that was a bit extreme!”

Hundreds of revellers in fancy-dress, aged from six to 81, took part in the popular swim as thousands watched from the Esplanade.

A spokesman for the event said a child’s toy “inadvertently triggered” an early start without the usual planned countdown and supervision.

He added: “Unfortunately, the wind was starting to strengthen and this, along with the increasing along shore tide, started to take some swimmers towards the outer end and around the breakwater.”

Phil Shepperd, senior coxswain of Sidmouth Lifeboat, said: “Some people were swept on to the rocks by waves, our crew members gave assistance as did other members of the public.

“Half a dozen were helped out of the water, taken to the lifeboat station, given a warm shower and a cup of tea and treated for cuts and grazes.”

Eve Mathews, along with Herald photographer Terry Ife, caught the drama on camera.

She said: “It was disturbing to see how quickly they were swept into the rocks.”

The event is a fundraiser for the RNLI – but Sidmouth’s independent lifeboat service is not a member.

The crew provides safety cover due to the event being on their patch and out of courtesy to the organisers.

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