Courtmacsherry: From angling to sinking

When a group of four adults and a child discovered their speedboat was taking on water in choppy seas off the coast of West Cork, they desperately needed a lifeboat crew’s help.

Courtmacsherry: From angling to sinking

‘When we got to the casualties, one of the men was lying on his stomach using his fingers to plug up holes in the hull, which was rapidly filling with water,’ recalls Sean O’Farrell, Courtmacsherry Harbour’s lifeboat Coxswain. ‘If we’d taken 3 minutes longer to get to them, we would have been looking at five people in the water, in serious danger.’

The launch to the group of five – which included a young girl aged about 9 – took place on a cloudy and choppy 17 August 2015. The group had taken their 7m speedboat out for a spot of angling near the Old Head of Kinsale, with a costly new engine recently fitted to their vessel.

While the new engine had been fixed in place securely, the boat’s owner had forgotten a critical step – to seal the holes left by the old motor’s mount.

In a 1.5m swell, it wasn’t long before the boat was taking in water. With no VHF radio to call for help, and no bailing equipment to tackle the leak, the group made a desperate call on a mobile phone.

‘They were lucky to have gotten a signal out there at all. They phoned the Coast Guard and we launched within 6 minutes of the call,’ says Second Coxswain Mark Gannon, who responded to the call for the Courtmacsherry Harbour Trent class all-weather lifeboat, along with Sean and three fellow volunteers. ‘But the actual position of the casualty was unclear in the midst of things. The people on the sinking speedboat actually saw our bright orange boat in the distance, headed the wrong way, and called the Coast Guard back to tell the lifeboat to alter course.’

As the volunteers drew their lifeboat – the Frederick Storey Cockburn – alongside the speedboat, it became clear that the small vessel was on borrowed time. Fortunately, the Trent’s sloping cutaway made it easy for the five casualties to step onboard to safety.

Volunteer Gearóid O’Donovan (one of the crew’s emergency mechanics) stepped aboard and began pumping out the water. ‘I reckon it took about 15 minutes to get enough water out so that the speedboat was in a fit state to tow back to safety. They had been trying to bail with just their hands,’ says Gearóid.

‘They’d been keeping it together for the little girl, trying not to worry her, but any wave of any size could have capsized that boat in a moment,’ adds Sean. ‘The speedboat crew had three lifejackets between them, but they didn’t seem to be of sufficient quality to do the job if they’d ended up in the open water. They were extremely happy to see us, and I think the gravity of their situation really dawned once they were safe and dry on the lifeboat.’

‘I didn’t expect a serious shout so soon’

Evan O’Sullivan, 17, youngest Crew Member at Courtmacsherry Harbour

'I joined the crew back in Spring 2015 and am also studying full time for my Leaving Cert.

'When I finish school, I’d like to join the Naval Service and train to be an officer. I’m pretty sure my experience on the lifeboats will help with my application.

'I’ve been around boats since I was about 5 years old. My dad used to be a skipper on an angling vessel. I was surprised to see such a serious incident on my second ever lifeboat shout, but that’s why I joined – to help people in trouble.

'And as someone who loves boats, a 25-knot Trent class is a pretty cool piece of kit!'

Get RNLI advice on safer angling, whether from a boat or from the shore, here.