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Bridlington: Father-and-son trawlermen at a storm's mercy

Caught in the path of Storm Abigail, the crew of a broken-down shellfish trawler needed RNLI volunteers to come to their aid – quickly.

Bridlington: Father-and-son trawlermen at a storm's mercy

As the storm passed over them on 12 November 2015, the 12 men onboard trawlers Genesis Rose and Genesis Enigma knew they had to head for the safety of Bridlington Harbour.

Experienced skipper Neil Robson was in charge of Genesis Enigma, his son George at the helm of Genesis Rose for the first time in bad weather.

As they began their return journey, still some 70 miles away from shelter, the propeller of Genesis Enigma was fouled on some rope. Fortunately, Genesis Rose was just a few miles away and George began a tow.

However, with the 15m Genesis Enigma weighing around 100 tonnes, the Robsons faced a difficult and potentially dangerous task: manoeuvring the vessels into Bridlington’s narrow harbour mouth.

Neil knew they would need help and called the Coastguard.

By now it was 5.45pm, the pair of trawlers were 2 miles from the harbour and the storm was at its peak.

Struggle for safe harbour

Meanwhile the volunteers of RNLI Bridlington’s Mersey class lifeboat Marine Engineer were heading out to the rescue. Coxswain Stuart Tibbett says: ‘When I’d picked my son up from football earlier in the day, I’d rung the harbour watch officer to find out who was at sea.

‘I knew the Genesis boats were out there, but they’re fine new vessels and Neil is a very experienced skipper. I thought nothing more of it until teatime, when I was sat at the table listening to the wind building up outside.

‘My pager went off and as I raced off, I told my wife, as I always do, that I’d call her as soon as I knew what the shout was going to be. It turned out to be the Robsons, rapidly approaching the harbour.’

Bridlington Coxswain Stuart Tibbett

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Bridlington Coxswain Stuart Tibbett

Stuart picked his most experienced crew for the lifeboat that night – he knew it would be a tough challenge to help both large fishing boats negotiate the harbour mouth.

Onboard were Second Coxswain Steve Emmerson, Mechanic Chris Brompton, Relief Mechanics Jason Stevenson and Andy Rogers, trainee Coxswain and Navigator Grant Walkington, and Crew Member Andy Webber.

The volunteers quickly reached the two vessels and secured a rope to Genesis Enigma’s stern. This would allow them to provide extra braking power while Genesis Rose continued to tow.

Shackled together, the three boats made their way to the harbour entrance but the powerful waves pushed them precariously towards the north pier.

They had to abandon the approach, head back to sea and try again.

As the boats neared the harbour a second time, the RNLI crew fired eight white flares to illuminate their difficult path. It was at this point the rope between Genesis Enigma and the lifeboat snapped, and the trawler struck the north pier.

Second Coxswain Steve Emmerson fished the tow rope out of the water, and Coxswain Tibbett and his crew fought to regain the tow.

Meanwhile the skipper of Genesis Rose pulled Genesis Enigma further into the harbour – skilfully manoeuvring the huge trawler to safety. Soon, both fishing boats had reached the inner harbour, where their crews secured them.

Genesis Enigma and Genesis Rose, securely tied up and ready for the next trip

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Genesis Enigma and Genesis Rose, securely tied up and ready for the next trip

Genesis Enigma was scratched from her brush with the pier, but more worryingly, the cry ‘I can’t breathe’ now came from inside the trawler. Neil’s son John Robson was in need of casualty care after the stressful ordeal.

Lifeboat Crew Members Andy Rogers and Andy Webber treated John with oxygen, and his breathing quickly returned to normal.

‘I’m pretty sure he was panicking about his dad, his brother and their new boats,’ remembers Stuart, ‘but everyone was OK in the end. In fact, once we’d all calmed down, the Genesis crews were even able to unload their catch that night.’

Neil Robson (far right) returns to the station to thank the lifeboat crew

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Neil Robson (far right) returns to the station to thank the lifeboat crew

The RNLI lifeboat crew congratulated Genesis Rose skipper George on his seamanship during the ordeal. Second Coxswain Steve wrote: ‘George is a young skipper, and has only been at the helm for a couple of months.

‘Last night he was faced with the conditions that nobody would envy – a 70-mile tow, southerly force 7–8 winds, an ebbing tide, pitch black dark night and his father’s brand new, 100-tonne Genesis Enigma behind him on a single piece of rope.

‘We believe that he executed the tow extremely well … this was a huge ask for anybody, let alone a new skipper.’

You can support Yorkshire volunteers like Bridlington lifeboat crew by joining in with RNLI Mayday. It's our national fundraising event. See how you can get involved here.