Safe return for Penlee Lifeboat after difficult shout
At 8.25pm on Monday 31 October, the pagers sounded and the volunteer crew of the all-weather Severn class lifeboat Ivan Ellen received a tasking request from HM Coastguard. They reported a 12-metre French yacht, with eight persons onboard, was taking on water two miles south west of Porthleven.
At this time Gwennap Head was measuring wind speeds gusting to 85mph, with an average west south-west wind speed of 65mph.
At 8.33pm, with Coxswain Patch Harvey at the helm and seven crew onboard, the Ivan Ellen lifeboat launched from Newlyn into horrendous weather conditions.
With a screaming wind gusting Force 10, driving heavy rain, rough seas and extremely poor visibility, the lifeboat made her way across Mount’s Bay towards the casualty vessel.
On arrival they found that the 12-metre yacht was drifting southeast towards the shore. It was pitching and tossing and there was no sea room for the lifeboat crew to work with. The prevailing sea conditions were far too poor to safely transfer a crew member across to the casualty vessel with a salvage pump.
The lifeboat managed to get alongside the yacht and spoke to its skipper via VHF radio. The skipper indicated that they did not have sufficient safety equipment for the eight persons onboard to safely abandon the yacht.
Setting up a tow was the next best option to prevent the yacht from drifting closer to the rocks and going ashore.
In very challenging conditions, volunteer crew members James Roberts and Will Treneer went out on deck and a tow was connected to the stricken yacht on the first throw.
The lifeboat then towed her to deeper water but after 3-4 minutes the tow rope parted. The wet and heavy tow rope had to be pulled back on to the lifeboat by the crew, while the yacht continued drifting - by the time the lifeboat and crew had reset, the yacht was about a mile off the shore.
A second tow rope was connected on the first attempt and the Ivan Ellen proceeded to tow the yacht in a westerly direction, into the prevailing weather conditions at about 2 knots.
At some stage the yacht's port side hull window had smashed, and water was pouring into the forehead cabin. A further VHF call from the yacht's skipper indicated that they were taking in more water, up to their shins, and that two of his crew were really poorly.
Coxswain Patch Harvey immediately contacted Falmouth Coastguard and requested urgent helicopter assistance. At the time, the Coastguard Rescue Helicopter 924 was on route to a tasking but was redirected to the scene.
In the most difficult and extreme conditions, while the lifeboat kept the yacht under tow heading into the weather, the crew of Rescue 924 managed to winch the eight casualties to the safety of the helicopter.
The RNLI Coxswain and crew of the Ivan Ellen witnessed some amazing flying skills by the pilot and incredible determination by the winchman.
The stricken yacht was kept under tow, and despite taking on more water, arrived safely back in Newlyn Harbour at 01.30am. She was met by our Inshore lifeboat ‘Mollie and Ivor Dent’ who assisted with towing and putting crew members onboard the yacht.
This was a difficult shout for our volunteer crew who dealt with some very challenging conditions both on deck, and onboard the lifeboat.
ALB Crew included Coxswain Patch Harvey, Mechanic Marcel Le Bretton, Dan Sell, James Roberts, Will Treneer, Adrian Thomas and Trevelyan Worth, on his second official shout.
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 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and 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.
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