Menu

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

In association with ISA Logo Irish Sailing

Baltimore’s Restored Vintage Lifeboat Will Return to the Scene of the 1979 Fastnet Storm Rescues

30th July 2019
2648 Views
A veteran of the Fastnet Storm rescue of 1979, the Watson 47 Class lifeboat The Robert has been restored by Jeff Houlgrave, and is currently in Crosshaven before heading for her 1979 home port of Baltimore on Friday A veteran of the Fastnet Storm rescue of 1979, the Watson 47 Class lifeboat The Robert has been restored by Jeff Houlgrave, and is currently in Crosshaven before heading for her 1979 home port of Baltimore on Friday Photo: Jeff Houlgrave

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 Fastnet, RNLI Lifeboats
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

Email The Author

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

mgm sidebutton
bjmarine sidebutton
xyachts sidebutton

Featured Associations

ISA sidebutton
ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Events

tokyo sidebutton
sovscup sidebutton
vdlr sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
viking sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
sellingboat sidebutton

Please show your support for Afloat by donating