Swimmer rescued by Sligo Bay RNLI urges people to support Christmas Appeal
An open sea swimmer who was rescued by Sligo Bay RNLI last month is calling on the people of Sligo to support the charity’s annual Christmas Appeal after volunteers faced an unprecedented year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The RNLI has seen a drop in income in 2020 as traditional fundraising activities had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. This was despite the lifesaving charity having to spend extra funds to ensure its volunteer lifeboat crews including those at Sligo Bay RNLI, had the vital PPE, such as face masks and gloves to keep their lifesavers safe.
Yet, during an extraordinary year and while facing new challenges in saving lives at sea, lifeboat crews wearing additional PPE and adapting to restrictions, continued to respond to the pager and work tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep people safe.
As lockdown restrictions eased and between the months of July to October, lifeboats at Ireland’s 46 stations, launched 512 times with their crews bringing 793 people to safety. The statistics reflect an increase of 33 more launches and 164 more people aided, on the same four-month period last year.
More recently, Orla Nicholson from Sligo was one of four seasoned swimmers who got into difficulty off Rosses Point on Sunday 22 November. Orla was in a group of four friends when sea conditions changed rapidly, and they got caught in a swell.
‘We are regular sea swimmers and would go out most Saturdays and Sundays and more so this year since lockdown as it was one of the things we could do,’ Orla explained. ‘The afternoon started normally. We went to Rosses Point and for those familiar with the area, they will know that there are two beaches. Conditions on the first beach didn’t look favourable as the slipway was covered in water so we decided to go to the second beach and agreed to swim up to a landmark known locally as the bomb - that was the goal.’
It was when the group were on the return swim, that they began to encounter problems.
‘We had been in our depth all the time, but conditions quickly changed, and we suddenly couldn’t touch the bottom,’ Orla said. ‘While I wasn’t too worried initially, I was the furthest out and we did get scattered as a group. Another wave came and we were pushed further out again. I tried to stay close to my friend who is newer to swimming than me and we used our inflatable tow floats around our waists, by resting on them. ‘We attempted to swim but we were caught in what I can only describe as a magnetic force that I have never experienced before, so while we were swimming, we were not moving. We tried to head for the shore, but it was taking a lot of effort and nothing was happening. Then there was no fuel left in the tank and we decided to stay put with the help of our floats.’
Meanwhile, one of the group managed to make it back to the beach where she raised the alarm with a member of the public who called 999. The lifeboat from Sligo Bay RNLI responded along with the Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 118 from Sligo.
‘It was such a relief to see the helicopter come and airlift my friend who at that point was cold and exhausted and, to see the lifeboat come for me. The volunteer crew were so efficient, they came so quickly and the manner in how they looked after me was so good. There was no judgement or criticism, they could not have done more for me and they could not have been nicer. They wrapped me in a blanket because I was cold, and they reassured me that I was going to be ok.’
The helicopter airlifted two of the casualties while Orla was brought back to Rosses Point and transferred to hospital by ambulance to be checked over. She says she feels lucky to have been brought to safety: ‘I feel very grateful to have been rescued by the lifeboat crew and I find it reassuring to know as a swimmer that should you get into difficulty like I did, that volunteers are on call and waiting to respond if their pager goes off. I also know that the RNLI depends on the goodwill of others to support the work their crews do and that is why I would urge people if they can, to give to the Christmas Appeal.’
Daryl Ewing, Sligo Bay RNLI mechanic and helm said the crew were delighted to be able to help Orla: ‘Call outs such as this highlight that even seasoned sea users can get into difficulty. Conditions can change rapidly, and people can get caught out. The group did the right thing, they went prepared with floats, stayed together as best they could and one of them raised the alarm.’
Daryl said 2020 had been a challenging year for RNLI volunteers: ‘Thankfully, with many additional safety measures and procedures in place to ensure our safety, we have remained on call 24/7 throughout the pandemic. We have our standard PPE but now also wear masks and gloves and take extra precautions at sea. We know the extra PPE comes at a financial cost to the charity and during a time when fundraising activity has had to be halted.
‘The best Christmas gift RNLI volunteers like me can wish for, is a kind donation to our Christmas appeal. Funds raised will provide the lifesaving kit we need when we are at sea and helping to bring someone to safety.’
As a charity, the RNLI relies on the support of the public to continue saving lives – and that support is needed now more than ever. To support, visit: RNLI.org/Xmas
Pictured from left, Sligo Bay RNLI crew members David Bradley, Owen McLaughlin, Brian Gallagher and Helm Daryl Ewing with centre, Orla Nicholson, who the lifeboat crew rescued last month.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.