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Displaying items by tag: Paddleboard

The rescue of cousins Sara Feeney (23) and Ellen Glynn (17) after being swept out to sea on paddleboards captured the attention of the country last August. How a balmy summer's evening quickly turned into a nightmare for the cousins' parents onshore, to the quick-witted reaction of the two women to lash the boards together, to the fishermen who realised the initial search was too focused on inner Galway Bay.

A story of endurance as Sara and Ellen survived 15 hours at sea, and the tears of relief among hundreds of volunteers searching the Galway and Clare coastlines and in Galway RNLI lifeboat station, where the volunteer crews have recovered more bodies than most of them care to remember.

When 23-year old NUI Galway graduate Sara Feeney and her 17-year old cousin Ellen Glynn set out for a short spin on paddleboards one evening in mid-August 2020, they only expected to be on the water for a short time.

Covid-19 restrictions had prevented them from going to their closest beach at Silver Strand on north Galway Bay, so they drove out with Sara's mum Helen to Furbo beach, 12 km west of Galway city.

There were swimmers in the water, enjoying the heat in fading light as they pumped up the inflatable boards and took to the water at around 9.30pm.

Sara's mum Helen walked her dog, Otis, along the short shoreline. Within a short space of time she wondered why she couldn't see the cousins on the water.

Little did she know at that time that the two women were shouting and frantically waving their paddles, unable to make it back to shore.

The northerly breeze had turned north-easterly and gained in strength, and the two women had no means of communication – Ellen had forgotten her wet bag that normally carried her mobile phone. They were wearing lifejackets, but no wetsuits – only bikinis – and had no food or water.

Realising they were in danger of being separated, the two women strapped their boards together. Back on shore, Helen Feeney had dialled the emergency services and had been put through to the Irish Coast Guard.

For a time, the two women remained confident that they would be located and were initially only worried about all the trouble they would have caused. As darkness fell and the hours passed, they spotted boats and a helicopter coming close enough to light up the sea around them, but in the vast sea area, they could neither be seen nor heard.

Shooting stars and bioluminescence lifted their spirits briefly, and Ellen sang every Taylor Swift song that she knew. Conditions worsened, with heavy rain. When a lightning storm forced an Irish Coast Guard helicopter to fly off to the north, they knew they would have to try and survive the night. By now, they were clinging to their boards in a heavy swell.

As the fog lifted well after dawn, they realised just how much trouble they were in, with the Cliffs of Mother just south of them, the Aran island of Inis Oírr to the north, and the Atlantic to the west.

They had been carried all of 18 nautical miles or 33 kilometres diagonally across Galway Bay and out into the ocean. A chance sighting of floats attached to crab pots set by Aran fisherman Bertie Donohue saved them from drifting further.

When they were located by Galway fisherman Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan in their catamaran, Johnny Ó, the two women had been the focus of a major air/sea search co-ordinated by Valentia Coast Guard and had spent 15 hours at sea. "We found them, but they saved themselves," Patrick Oliver would say later.

Fishermen Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan located the girlsFishermen Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan located the girls

This documentary features interviews with Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn and their families one year on, speaking also to key people involved in their rescue, recalling how a balmy evening turned into a long, dark terrifying 15 hours that will be remembered as the miracle of Galway Bay.

Narrated by Lorna Siggins

Produced by Lorna Siggins and Sarah Blake

Sound Supervision by John Doyle and Peadar Carney

Available for podcast on Thursday 29th July

Broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday 1st August @ 6pm, Monday 2nd August @ 3pm, and Tuesday 3rd August @ 10pm

Published in Rescue

Aran island fisherman Bertie Donohue says he is “amazed” at the resilience of the two young Galway women who survived a 15-hour ordeal after their paddleboards were swept across Galway bay last week.

“They are two very tough, very brave girls – and I don’t know how they managed to hold on to my fishing gear in that location,” the crab fisherman from Cill Éinne on Inis Mór says.

When he heard that Sara Feeney (23) and Ellen Glynn (17) had secured themselves to floats off the Aran island of Inis Oírr, after being carried across the bay last Wednesday night, he knew immediately this was his crab gear.

Aran fisherman Bertie Donohue and the sling that Ellen Glynn and Sara Feeney secured boards toAran fisherman Bertie Donohue and the sling that Ellen Glynn and Sara Feeney secured boards to

The fisherman, who processes brown crab on Inis Mór, said he had planned to move the gear early last week, but said: “something stopped him”.

Bertie's boat named VentureBertie's boat named Venture

“That was one of three sets of pots I laid off “The Finish”, some two-miles south-west of Inis Oírr, but it was the outer set of gear,” he said.

“If they had missed it, they would be out in the Atlantic,” he said.

The chart areaThe chart area

Mr Donohue said that “what had happened to those two girls could happen to any of us”.

He said their own ability to keep calm had been key to their survival – along with their rescue by fishermen Patrick and Morgan Oliver of Galway RNLI.

When the two exhausted women fully realised their location after fog lifted last Thursday morning, the Cliffs of Moher were just south of them and the wide Atlantic just west.

The 20 knot north-easterly had carried them diagonally across Galway Bay towards Black Head, during a night of heavy rain and lightning.

Wearing only buoyancy aids over their swim togs, they tried to paddle up to Inis Oirr with the wind still against them.

It was at that point that they spotted the floats and grabbed hold of the gear, securing the sling through the webbing on the boards.

They had already wisely lashed the two boards together when they were carried south-west of Furbo beach by the offshore wind.

“I don’t know how they survived that night as there was awful weather, and that north-easterly is cold and makes a very bad chop in the sea when you are away from shore,” Mr Donohue said.

“That is a very exposed location, and I only set the gear there to help another fisherman, who lost 200 pots last October when his boat sank in Inis Oírr,” he explained.

“And his boat sank in a north-easterly, the same wind those girls had, which just shows you how tough that weather is,”Mr Donohue said.

Mr Donohue lifted the pots at the weekend, and there was a good catch of crab.

The two women and their families, from Knocknacarra, Galway, have paid tribute to all those who participated in the search and the rescue, and have said they cannot thank the Olivers enough.

Three Irish Coast Guard helicopters, RNLI Aran and Galway lifeboats, Doolin and Costello Bay, Garda, the Civil Defence, local fishing and leisure craft, along with Galway Flying Club, Aer Arann and many volunteers had participated, and it was co-ordinated by Valentia Marine Rescue Sub-Centre.

Former Irish Coast Guard search and rescue pilot Dave Courtney, author of the memoir Nine Lives, says that questions need to be asked as to why the rescue took so long.

The Irish Coast Guard has said the search for the two women covered a 200 square mile sea area.

It said it was using SARMAP - the US software used effectively by Valentia Coast Guard in 2011 to track the probable location of the crew of the yacht Rambler which capsized in the Fastnet yacht race off West Cork.

“ The search was just moving into the south-west of the Inis Oirr sector ...with both aviation and surface assets when the fishing vessel Johnny Ó came upon them. It is highly likely they would have been detected within the following one to two hours as it was daylight,”it says.

Published in Galway Harbour
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