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Bringing 200 tonnes of trawler home

Kieran had to work fast. In high winds, a trawler’s heaving line had got tangled around the lifeboat’s searchlight and radar. Someone had to climb up and cut it loose or the next big swell could bring the gear down …

Trent class lifeboat in rough conditions

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

The call came at 2.50am on Wednesday 3 February. In a strong gale, a 25m trawler had suffered a fouled propeller while her six crew fished for scallops.

She was disabled and drifting towards sandbanks outside Dublin Bay.

It was an untimely wake-up call for Dun Laoghaire Duty Coxswain David Branigan and his crew: ‘You’ve just fallen asleep and all’s good with the world, but when the pager goes off you’re focused on getting to the station and finding out what the job is,’ he says.

Duty Coxswain David Branigan was on call in Dun Laoghaire that night

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Duty Coxswain David Branigan was on call in Dun Laoghaire that night

The crew left harbour just after 3am, and the Irish Sea grew rougher as they headed further out, with 4-5m waves.

The trawler, Argonaut, had reported a position around 8 miles offshore, and had drifted a further 2 miles. Within 45 minutes, the Trent class lifeboat Anna Livia was on scene.

A challenging set-up

Setting up the tow wasn't easy. In rough weather, you don’t want to take your lifeboat too close to the other vessel. So you’ve got even further to toss the line, and more chance of its being taken by the wind. And strong winds can be loud, making communication difficult.

It took three attempts, and about an hour, to establish the tow. On one attempt, Argonaut’s heaving line got tangled around the lifeboat’s radar and searchlight and it was up to Mechanic Kieran O’Connell to climb up and cut it free. David recalls: ‘It only took 2 or 3 minutes, but to have somebody hanging onto the radar gantry in that sea state – well, it took determination.’

Towing teamwork

At around 4.45am, they headed for Howth. A tight turn just inside Howth Harbour can be tricky for a 200-tonne vessel, even in good conditions, so David requested the launch of Howth lifeboat to help in the confined final stages.

‘You just don’t know how the wind is going to affect things when you’re coming into a harbour like that,’ he says, ‘And it’s always good to see our mates from Howth.’

But, at a towing pace of around 3 knots, it would be nearly 6 hours before they saw the other crew. The tow parted three times, and each time both boats would drift backwards while the tow was reset. It was after 10am when they arrived outside Howth.

Keeping the trawler in an astern tow, they headed for the harbour entrance, with Howth’s Trent class lifeboat Roy Barker III bringing up the rear.

Howth lifeboat crew had put their fenders out and would give Argonaut a nudge whenever she started to drift off course. Working together, the crews brought the trawler in and tied her up safe at around 10.40am.

Dun Laoghaire and Howth lifeboat crews work together to bring Argonaut to safety

Photo: RNLI/Noel Davidson

Dun Laoghaire and Howth lifeboat crews work together to bring Argonaut to safety

7 full Irish and 14 coffees

Kieran knew a café nearby, and a tired and hungry Dun Laoghaire crew went for a full Irish breakfast and two mugs of coffee each. They then got back onboard to return the lifeboat to Dun Laoghaire, ready for the next service.

Many of the volunteers had to go straight to work. And for Kieran, the climbing Mechanic, top of the to-do list was ordering a new tow line – due to the wear and tear sustained on this long and arduous shout.

Help keep them ready for the next emergency. Please consider a regular donation.