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Angle: Sinking in the dark

When you’re an RNLI crew member and your pager starts beeping in the early hours of the morning, snuggling back under the duvet and sneaking into work a few minutes late simply isn’t an option.

On 28 October 2015 at 2am, Angle lifeboat volunteers were jolted awake by a familiar beeping. Through bleary eyes, they realised that it was a direct page from the Coastguard and knew immediately that the situation was serious – unless the shout is a matter of life or death, the crew are paged by the Lifeboat Operations Manager.

Jumping out of bed, the crews rushed to throw on some clothes and get to the ends of their driveways. Angle Lifeboat Station is at the end of a mile-long dirt track, and it is not an uncommon sight to see Coxswain Lewis Creese rushing along the bumpy road in the station’s Land Rover, picking up the crew from the ends of their drives along the way.

In the Land Rover, the crew heard more about the situation – a fishing boat had run aground and was sinking rapidly off Rat Island. The skipper, having hit a rock out to sea, had tried to ground the vessel at West Angle Bay so that it could be salvaged. Half a mile from shore, it had fouled a propeller and was now stranded, taking on water and sinking fast.

At the station, the crew threw on their gear and jumped onto the boat. From the pagers going off to launching the Tamar class lifeboat Mark Mason, it had been 7 minutes.

For Assistant Mechanic Dave Dillane, this shout was particularly worrying – he knew the fishing crew well. Although he was concerned for his friends, Dave knew that the best thing he could do was focus on carefully entering the vessel’s position into the navigation system.

Dave says: ‘I knew it must have been serious situation. But I also knew the best thing to do was to stay calm and do my job so that we could get there and rescue them quickly.’

Coxswain Lewis Creese (centre) and the Angle crew aboard the Mark Mason

Photo: Gavin Dando

Coxswain Lewis Creese (centre) and the Angle crew aboard the Mark Mason

Arriving at the scene, the crew found the boat in a shallow area, taking on water rapidly. Most of the fishing crew were still onboard, but the boat was listing heavily and the deck was already flooded. The skipper had deployed the liferaft as a precaution, and the crew were ready to jump. A few had already abandoned ship for the raft.

Aware that they had to act fast, Coxswain Lewis pulled Mark Mason alongside. As soon as they were next to the boat, Crew Members Nigel Berry and Adam Stringer jumped aboard with the salvage pump to begin pumping the water out.

Adam says: ‘It goes against all of your natural instincts to get on a boat that’s listing to that extent and that has taken on that much water but, in this situation, you don’t even think about it – you just get on with doing your job, trying to keep the crew safe and save the boat.’

The fishing vessel had already taken on a lot of water. The engine was fully submerged and had stopped. The boat was awash and rolling in the swell of the sea. The crew needed to set up the salvage pump – and quickly.

However, by the time it was set up, the boat was taking on water quicker than the pump could expel it. The boat, despite the volunteers’ best efforts, was beyond saving. The skipper ordered everybody to abandon ship.

The fishermen and RNLI Crew Members Adam and Nigel abandon ship into the liferaft
The fishermen and RNLI Crew Members Adam and Nigel abandon ship into the liferaft

It was too dangerous to recover the salvage pump. Making sure that everybody was off the boat, Adam and Nigel jumped into the liferaft. After doing a head count, they brought the liferaft alongside Mark Mason and helped the cold, wet and disheartened fishermen aboard.

It was a relief for the crew to step aboard the lifeboat and be greeted by a familiar face. Dave sat with the fishermen, chatting with them as they warmed up and wrapped their heads around what had happened. Although the accident was a blow to their livelihoods, they remained in good spirits.

Angle crew members help the stranded fishermen aboard Mark Mason
Angle crew members help the stranded fishermen aboard Mark Mason

The lifeboat crew weren’t quite ready to give up on the equipment that was left behind. After quickly changing, Adam and Nigel launched the daughter boat (Y boat) – an inflatable that is deployed from a compartment at the back of the lifeboat.

The fishing vessel was now resting on the sea bed, and had stopped listing with the swell, meaning that Nigel could pull the Y boat alongside and let Adam jump aboard. Unfortunately, Adam found that the boat had taken on too much water and attempting to get the pump back was far too dangerous. The salvage pump was, in an ironic twist of fate, unsalvageable.

At 3.35am, Mark Mason returned to station, having dropped the fishing crew back at their harbour. Stepping onto land, the crew washed the boat down and got it back into the boathouse before returning home to bed – just a few hours before they had to get up again for work.

The aftermath: The fishing boat beaten and broken by the rocks

Photo: RNLI/Lewis Creese

The aftermath: The fishing boat beaten and broken by the rocks

Looking back on the rescue, Coxswain Lewis Creese says that the regular crew training was particularly important: ‘On a shout like this, when the crew has been woken up in the early hours of the morning and they’re tired, it helps that everything is already second nature to them.

‘For Jordan [Tuckwell, Crew Member], the training was incredibly helpful – this was his first urgent shout and he did incredibly well, especially considering the conditions and the circumstances. In fact, I’ve got nothing but praise for all of the crew. It was a real team effort and a great outcome in the circumstances.’

Our volunteer lifeboat crews are on call 24 hours a day. Your support can help bring these brave volunteers back to their loved ones safely. Please donate today. Thank you.