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It was when the Baltimore Lifeboat was called on the evening of Monday, August 13th 1979 to the assistance of the yacht Regardless that the outside world began to realize that something exceptional was happening to the record 303-boat Fastnet Race fleet writes W M Nixon. With a gathering gale, other yachts were already in difficulties. But as the gale developed into a storm, the call came from Ken Rohan’s Regardless - star boat in the then-winning three-boat Irish Admirals Cup team - that her high-tech carbon fibre rudder stock had broken clean off at sea south of Toe Head.

With one of the most experienced crews of all the boats on board, the fact that Regardless had sought help moved the scenario onto a new level. The Baltimore lifeboat, The Robert, was at sea under Cox’n Christie Collins with a very young Kieran Cotter in her crew, and when she found the disabled Regardless being tossed about like a cork, it took six attempts to get a towline aboard, but after that the fallen star was towed safely into Baltimore, and The Robert put back to sea on other related missions.

kieran cotter2Man of many rescues – the much-decorated Baltimore Lifeboat Cox’n Kieran Cotter at the day job in Baltimore

Several other lifeboats from along Ireland’s south coast and the boats from St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly and St Ives on the Cornish mainland, together with helicopters and ships, were also to be involved in the huge rescue effort which saved 132 lives. Yet despite their best efforts, there were to be 19 tragic losses in this exceptional storm, a situation which was to be analysed in several ways – including official reports – in its aftermath.

But gradually life returned to normal, and over the years the recollection of the storm of 1979 has seen the Baltimore Lifeboat, - which had been at sea for longer than any others - becoming the symbol of all the lifeboats involved, a situation which was reinforced when one of her successors, now with Kieran Cotter as Cox’n, played a central role in the rescue of the crew of George David’s super-maxi Rambler 100 when her keel snapped off at the Fastnet Rock in the race of 2011.

Baltimore lifeboat returns3An exhausted Baltimore Lifeboat crew returns to port on completion of their mission in the Fastnet Storm of 1979. They spent the longest time at sea of all the lifeboats on duty in this complex rescue operation

Meanwhile, The Robert, ON 955 and a classic Watson 47, was sliding gently into retirement and obscurity when she was discovered by Jeff Houlgrave. He may be best known on the big boat circuit for his involvement with Marina Projects and as Chairman of Superyacht UK, but one of his intriguing hobbies is the restoration of vintage lifeboats, and with The Robert
he found something very near to his heart.

robert lifeboat retired4The Robert as a cruiser in the early days of her retirement

Jeff houlgrave5One of Jeff Houlgrave’s individualistic hobbies is the restoration of vintage lifeboats, and The Robert was a very special case

It has to be confessed that when he signalled that this restoration was getting underway last year, the feeling was that time was tight enough to be ready for the big 40th at Baltimore in August. But we were able to put him in touch with Kieran Cotter, still the much-decorated Cox’n of Baltimore Lifeboat, to see what might happen early in August 2019, and last night the signal came through that the superbly restored Robert is now in Crosshaven, and will be heading towards Baltimore on Friday. Clearly, when Jeff Houlgrave gets going on a project, he doesn’t mess about.

With the re-jigging of the international programme such that the Rolex Fastnet Race 2019 start on Saturday 3rd August precedes Cowes Week (10th August – 17th August) for the first time ever, there’s no way any Fastnet racers will be in the region of The Rock on August 13th and 14th, the precise date of the 40th Anniversary of the rescues. But in Baltimore a programme is being developed to reflect the current schedule’s reality while properly respecting the solemn significance of the event.

baltimore west cork6Baltimore West Cork – a summer paradise where the links within and between the sailing and lifeboat communities are notably strong. Photo: Tom Vaughan

For of all ports, it is Baltimore where the lifeboat crews and the sailing community are most intimately intertwined. Thus in the Beaufort Cup Series within Volvo Cork Week last year, the Lifeboat Service was represented by Baltimore with Deputy Cox’n Youen Jacob skippering their J/109 to such good effect that at times they were leading the very competitive fleet, and at the end it was so close that the theoretical winner, Commandant Barry Byrne with the Defence Forces crew on John Maybury’s J/109 Joker 2, reckoned that as he and his crew were given the choice of which charity their €10,000 prize should go to, they should divide it between the Children’s Hospital and Irish Lifeboats. That’s the way it is in Baltimore.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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Today Lough Derg RNLI was requested by Valentia Coast Guard to assist two people on a 30-ft cruiser who had become stuck on rocks on a raised shoal on the Eastern Shore of Lough Derg.

The lifeboat launched at 1.46 pm at the request of Valentia Coast Guard with volunteer crew members Dom Sharkey, Owen Cavanagh and Christian Parker and helmed by Eleanor Hooker.

Weather conditions were calm with force 2 winds and good visibility.

The lifeboat reached the casualty vessel and established that the people on board were safe and well. The lifeboat took soundings of depth on approach as the cruiser was high on a rocky shoal.

A crew member transferred to the vessel and checked it was not holed and the rudder and drives were all in good working order. With the crew member still aboard they set up a tow and took the boat off the rocks and into safe waters. The RNLI volunteer showed safe water and markers on the chart before the cruiser continued its journey without further assistance from the lifeboat.

Deputy Launching Authority, Brendan O’Brien said ‘We advise people using the lake to anticipate each marker on their route and study their charts when passage planning and to enjoy Lough Derg’

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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Wicklow RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat Jock & Annie Slater went to the assistance of two sailors yesterday evening (Saturday 27 July) after their vessel developed engine failure.

The lifeboat put to sea under the command of Deputy Coxswain Tommy McAulay, and was alongside the drifting 28ft yacht at 5.50pm, eight miles north-east of Wicklow Harbour.

Conditions at the scene were calm with good visibility. A tow line was quickly established, and the stricken yacht was towed back to Wicklow Harbour where it was brought alongside the East Pier at 7.30pm and the two sailors were landed safely ashore.

The crew on the callout were Tommy McAulay, mechanic Tommy Murphy, Brendan Copeland, Brendan Kavanagh, Graham Fitzgerald and John Stapleton.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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Skerries RNLI volunteers responded to three callouts in less than a week starting last Friday (19 July) when they towed a small fishing boat to safety.

They were called out again on Monday to assist three teenagers on an inflatable dinghy, and on Wednesday to investigate a kite surfer in distress.

Shortly before 2pm last Friday afternoon (19 July), one of the Skerries RNLI volunteer crew spotted a small fishing boat that appeared to be drifting quite close to the shoreline.

The volunteer crew launched their Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat Louis Simson and made their way out to the fishing boat.

There was one man on board and he confirmed that the boat had suffered engine failure. A tow was established and the boat was towed safely into Skerries Harbour.

On Monday evening (22 July), just after 6pm, Skerries RNLI were tasked after Dublin Coast Guard received a call expressing concern for three teenagers in an inflatable dinghy who were drifting off the headland at Red Island.

Just as the crew reached the station, the lifeboat was stood down as the teenagers had managed to make it back to shore.

The pagers sounded once again on Wednesday evening (24 July) at 6.30pm after what appeared to be a kite belonging to a kitesurfer was spotted, semi-submerged, south of Shenick Island off Skerries.

The lifeboat was launched and proceeded directly to the area indicated by the caller. A search of the area was carried out and the object was spotted on the shore of the island.

A crew member entered the water and swam ashore to investigate the object, which turned out to be a discarded tent.

With the crew member safely back on board the lifeboat, the helm updated Dublin Coast Guard and the lifeboat was stood down.

Speaking about the busy week, volunteer lifeboat press officer Gerry Canning said: “With the great weather we’ve been having here has been an increase in callouts all around the coast, particularly involving inflatables.

“We all love to enjoy the water, but we’d advise people to check out the RNLI and Water Safety Ireland websites (RNLI.org and WaterSafety.ie) for tips on how to enjoy yourself while staying safe at the beach.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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Eight French sailors were happy to see Newcastle RNLI when their motor yacht had engine troubles off the Co Down coast last Friday night (19 July).

Conditions were poor, with fog and rain and a southerly Force 3 wind with a 1-2m swell when the all-weather lifeboat reached the stricken boat some 14 miles off Newcastle at 10pm.

All eight on board were found safe and well, and prepared for the rough conditions with foul weather clothing and lifejackets.

At the request of the vessel’s skipper, a tow was established and the boat was towed into Ardglass Harbour, where members of Newcastle Coastguard assisted with mooring.

Speaking afterwards, Newcastle RNLI coxswain Nathan Leneghan said: “We would like to commend the actions of the yacht’s crew for having the correct lifesaving equipment on board and for calling for assistance at the earliest opportunity as the situation could have deteriorated with weather conditions worsening.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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Aran Islands RNLI responded to two medical evacuations, or medevacs, yesterday morning (Tuesday 23 July).

The all-weather Severn class lifeboat Margaret, Joan and Fred NYE launched at 10.15am following a request from the Irish Coast Guard, headed initially to Inis Meain.

Weather conditions were good with a 1.5m swell and a force 4-5 southerly wind as coxswain Mairtín O’Flaithearta and a full crew approached the pier at Inis Meain, where a teenager requiring further medical attention was taken aboard the lifeboat.

The crew then proceeded to Inis Oirr, where a young child also requiring further medical attention was taken aboard.

Both casualties were then taken straight to Rossaveal Harbour where they were transferred to hospital for further treatment.

Speaking after the callout, O’Flaithearta said: “A call can come at any time, and often like today where we had get two call outs at once. In situations like this, our regular crew training helps with a quick response time.

“We would like to wish both casualties a speedy recovery.”

The medevac came just days after Aran Islands RNLI were called to assist a yacht with engine difficulty off Straw Island.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

A member of the US Coast Guard and three of his relatives have been praised by the father of a young girl rescued after she was swept out to sea from a Dublin beach.

As The Irish Times reports, Walter Butler and his relations Eoghan Butler, Declan Butler and Alex Thomson leapt into action when they heard screams for help and saw the girl on a “pink floaty” off Portmarnock beach on Monday afternoon (22 July).

Butler remained on the beach ready to provide casualty care while the others swam out to the girl, who was swept some distance from shore and at one point was struggling to stay afloat after coming off her inflatable.

“We have all been swimming competitively since we were six or seven years old so to say we are good swimmers is an understatement,” said Butler — who noted that it still took half an hour for his relatives to reach the girl and swim her back to the beach, where paramedics and her relieved father were waiting.

The dangers of using inflatables at the seaside were highlighted again just hours later, when Larne RNLI launched yesterday afternoon (Tuesday 23 July) to a report of three people being carried out to sea on inflatable toys in Browns Bay.

At the scene, the volunteer crew found a small fishing vessel had already taken one casualty on board, and they look over to bring the remaining two onto the lifeboat.

RNLI volunteer helm Barry Kirkpatrick said: “We advise you not to use inflatables at the beach as offshore winds can easily sweep you off the shore in a very quick space of time.

“If you do get into difficulty or see anyone else in difficulty, please remember to call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.”

Belfast Coastguard has warned that a number of children have been blown out to sea on inflatable toys in recent days.

“Please remember the safest place for children to play with these death traps is in the back garden,” a spokesperson said.

Published in Rescue

Aran Islands RNLI volunteers were requested to launch their all-weather lifeboat at 5.20pm on Saturday (20 July) by the Irish Coast Guard as a yacht with one onboard was experiencing engine difficulty northeast of Straw Island.

The all-weather Severn class lifeboat MARGARET JOAN AND FRED NYE #17-46 launched under Coxswain Tommy Dirrane and a full crew.

Weather conditions were good with calm seas and a fresh west to west southerly wind.

Once alongside the yacht the lifeboat crew established a tow line and headed for Kilronan Harbour.

As the lifeboat reached the safety of the harbour an alongside tow was established to bring the yacht safely to its mooring on a pontoon.

Speaking after the call out Aran Islands RNLI Coxswain Tommy Dirrane said: ‘Thankfully a good result, a call out to a yacht in difficulty can throw up multiple challenges, today we reached the yacht quickly and were able to bring it to shore safely. For anyone planning a trip to sea, always wear a lifejacket, always carry means of communication and let someone ashore know where you are going and when you are due back. Should you get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coast Guard ‘

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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Portrush RNLI’s volunteer crew launched yesterday evening (Monday 22 July) to reports of a jetskier in difficulty at Benone Beach around 8.17pm.

The crew, who had just finished an exercise and had been stood down, launched the all-weather lifeboat in record time after the HM Coastguard request.

It was reported that three persons had already entered the water to assist the jetskier but had to return to shore to receive medical attention from the coastguard.

The lifeboat crew reached the jetskier at 8.35pm in smooth seas but with a strong offshore breeze which had hindered the three people attempting to assist.

After the jetski was secured alongside the lifeboat, the crew took the casualty on board, where he assessed and deemed to be medically fit.

It was then decided that the jetskier and his craft should be taken back to the beach, using the all-weather lifeboat’s smaller Y boat, to the waiting coastguard.

Des Austin, coxswain of Portrush RNLI, said after the callout: “The jetskier had no wetsuit on and even in a balmy summer evening the water is still very cold, so it was important that we reached him as soon as we could.

“There was also a strong off shore wind which made it difficult for the other swimmers to assist, so the members of the public did exacty the right thing by calling for help.

“It’s also key for us to make sure that the jetski is recovered also as it could pose a hazard if not taken out of commission.”

“LarneLarne RNLI tows the 37ft yacht back to East Antrim Boat Club | Photo: RNLI/Samantha Agnew

Much earlier in the day, Larne RNLI volunteers’ pagers sounded at 5am after reports that a 37ft yacht had broken its moorings at East Antrim Boat Club and run aground in Larne Lough, causing a potential hazard to the shipping lanes.

Both lifeboats were launched 10 minutes later in moderate seas on an overcast morning, and once on scene it was decided to place a crew member from the inshore lifeboat on the casualty vessel to secure a tow line.

Once brought into deeper water and assessed as being safe and undamaged, the yacht was then towed by the larger all-weather lifeboat to a spare mooring back at East Antrim Boat Club.

“It was an early start for our volunteers this morning and we had a good turnout of crew for the callout.” said Larne’s lifeboat operations manager Allan Dorman.

“This scenario is something that we practice during training and I was glad to see that everyone worked together for a successful outcome.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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Baltimore RNLI launched yesterday afternoon (Wednesday 17 July) to rescue a windsurfer who got into difficulty in Baltimore Harbour in West Cork.

The inshore lifeboat launched at 2.01pm after a member of the public alerted the Irish Coast Guard that a windsurfer was being blown against the shoreline at Reengarogy.

With four volunteer crew aboard — helm Kieran Collins and crew members Micheal Cottrell, David Ryan and Ian Lynch — the lifeboat arrived on scene two minutes later to find the casualty in the water, swimming hard to keep clear of the rocks.

The casualty was brought aboard the lifeboat, along with his board, and once satisfied that he was unharmed, the crew took him back to the beach in Baltimore he had originally set out from.

While the inshore lifeboat crew were dealing with their casualty on the shoreline, instructors from Baltimore Sailing Club went to the assistance of another windsurfer who was in difficulty in the middle of the harbour and brought them safely to shore.

Weather conditions at the time of the call were blustery with a south-westerly Force 5 wind and sloppy sea.

Speaking following the callout, Baltimore lifeboat press officer Kate Callanan said: “This was a particularly fast response as the inshore lifeboat was on scene with the casualty within seven minutes of the lifeboat pagers going off.

“Thankfully a member of the public had spotted the danger that the windsurfer was in and did the correct thing in alerting the coastguard.

“If you see anyone that you think is in difficulty on the water or along the coast, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
Page 7 of 185

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