Tribute to Gosport kayaker after Solent tragedy

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TRIBUTES have been paid to a loving father who went missing while out kayaking in the Solent.

A major search operation that saw helicopters and lifeboats scour the Solent for hours ended when a body was found yesterday morning.

Although formal identification is yet to take place, the family of missing man Stephen Taylor, from Gosport, said that it was his body that was found near the Isle of Wight.

His daughter Cara Toplis, from Rowner, paid tribute to her dad. She said: ‘He tried his best to be a fantastic father and grandfather in recent years.

‘He was an active, life-loving person, not a bad bone in his body, not a bad word to say, truly a sad loss.

‘His passing will leave a large hole in our lives, and many others.’

The alarm was raised when he did not return to his car in Hill Head on Saturday night after a kayaking trip to Lepe in Southampton.

Mr Taylor, who was also a keen cyclist, had two daughters and five grandchildren.

His son-in-law Colin Toplis said: ‘He was always ready and willing to help and assist anyone without a second thought.’

Yesterday afternoon, Hampshire police said a body had been found, but could not confirm whether it was the 54-year-old as formal identification had not taken place.

It is understood that Mr Taylor, an experienced canoeist, left at around 11.30am on Saturday. He was in touch with his partner throughout the day but when he did not return home late in the evening she alerted police.

There may have been a sighting of Mr Taylor at around 10.50pm, which was called in by a passing vessel.

Lifeboats, coastguard teams and a helicopter searched for Mr Taylor throughout the night, before the search was halted just after 11am.

Hill Head and Portsmouth Coastguard Rescue Teams undertook shoreline searches and the coastguard helicopter was brought into action.

Chris Rudd, senior coxswain at Gosport and Fareham Inshore Rescue Service, said: ‘It was an extensive search carried out in reasonably challenging conditions.

‘Our lifeboat carries thermal cameras but unfortunately we couldn’t find him, and the other units were trying just as hard.

‘We were all hoping for the best and our sincere condolences go out to his family.’

Mr Toplis thanked all those involved in the search.

He said: ‘They gave all their time up for free, in a search that spanned a massive area, in pitch darkness.

‘The whole family thanks them for the effort they put in – not only in the search for Stephen but for all the work they do all year round.’