The warden of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and his wife were forced to flee their home in the middle of the night when the storm surge on December 5/6 flooded the rear of Lime Kiln Cottage Visitor Centre and washed away a large chunk of the road. As Chris and Jo Bentley fled to safety with their pets, newly built islands in the wader pool on the other side of the road sank from view as the sea rushed in.
Upstream, the Rye Harbour Sailing Club clubhouse, which has stood firm for more than 80 years, was almost washed away. Tides of 4m (13ft) to 4.3m (14ft) are not unusual, but the harbour office measured this one at 5.3m (17.4ft), well above anything seen in the past 50 years. This freak tide was caused by very low atmospheric pressure generating high winds at the same time that “spring” tides were due, Britain ended up with a tidal surge generating floods all down the East coast.
The radio and television weather reports gave us time to take precautions, but little did we imagine how ineffective those measures would turn out to be. We thought we might be flooded to about 6 inches; in fact, the water inside the clubhouse rose closer to 2 ft.
Extensive damage was caused to all the electrical fittings as well as to the floor and walls. Outside, the boats in the dinghy park all finished up in one corner despite having even been tied down; luckily little damage was done to them.
As the water went down it left a deep layer of nasty smelling river mud. But thanks to the club members who arrived with mops and buckets that was soon removed and some very powerful heaters have helped to dry out the fabric of the building.
Extensive remedial work is needed, but when this is finished – and with a little bit of luck and the help and enthusiasm of the club members – the clubhouse will be there for another 80 years.
Charles Bronsdon is commodore of Rye Harbour Sailing Club. Additional reporting: Mike Pepler