Was the rude awaking of the RNLI pager going off at 0654 this morning, mostly asleep and slightly confused I stumbled around the bedroom for tracksuit bottoms and as many warm layers as came to hand, boots by the front door, car keys in the usual place and off out into the darkness. At this point I still had no idea what time it actually was, I had been sound asleep, so it could have been any time between 0200 and 0800, once I’d turned the key in the car ignition the clock showed 0656. It still looked like the middle of the night, dark, but a clear night with stars, ah lovely, I thought.
This hour of the winter morning gave me a clear drive through the village to the boathouse, which was a treat in itself. I wondered what the shout could be, the scallop grounds are closed, so unlikely to be a scalloper within the 12 mile limit anyway, leisure craft – I immediately dismissed that idea, lobster boat seemed unlikely in the dark too. I get to the boathouse and am fifth in the door, my second treat of the day, I’ve actually made it on to the shout!
It is a call for the ALB (big boat), the only information we have as we get our gear on and launch the boarding boat, is the call is to a small fishing vessel which has broken down 2 miles east of Langness. Coxswain asks for the time of high water, I check, 0637, 4.9m. I am still not awake enough to trust my eyes and judgement, another crewman takes a look, now confirmed with four eyes and two brains we can go.
We launch the boarding boat, climb aboard and head out to the lifeboat, taking care to dodge the string of lobster pots between us and the boat. All aboard and I’m in the wheelhouse, first job turn the breakers for the nav equipment on, the work front to back, radar, GPS, chartplotter, other GPS. With our helmsman patiently reading our compass heading (which keeps changing as we swing on the mooring) I get the radar setup with heading, nav input and speed data, then sit down in the nav seat and look at the chartplotter. RNLI Laserplot looks different today… We have a new system running, it has been installed while I was away in the Atlantic, yikes! We do have the same system on the ILB, which I can use fairly competently, but today I sit in the nav seat and my pre cup of tea brain is functioning in its usual way (breathing, moving and basic speech only). It takes me a couple of minutes to forget my friend Laserplot and meet my new pal SIMMs, with some additional input from most of the crew we get our route on the system. Fortunately this hasn’t caused us delay, we already know the way to Langness, radar is up and running and there is plenty of visibility to make out the lighthouse there.
Once we round the corner at Langness we see one boat well light up and in the right sort of place so we start to head towards it, an update from the coastguard gives our casualty position as being more to the east, so it isn’t the boat we can see. Our mechanic is talking to the casualty on the VHF, the casualty vessel has a good bright torch which he now flashes for us, and bingo, we are now sure we see him. The dawn is starting to break now too and it is cold, but with the dawn light our job gets easier.
The plan is to get the boat in tow, so our crew are on deck preparing the tow line. The boat itself is only a very small fibreglass powerboat with Z drive and small wheelhouse with two guys on board, the ILB could have done this job! Our coxswain brings us alongside the small boat, we want to pass the tow line and make if off to their bow. They have somehow had an oil spill in their boat too and the decks are like an ice rink. It is almost impossible for one of them to negotiate the narrow rail round the wheelhouse and on to the bow. While we have hold of them alongside, our quick thinking and long legged mechanic hops over the rail, onto their bow. I pass him the tow line, he makes if off on their cleat and hops back over the rail onto the lifeboat. Job done, vessel in tow and we sit tight, making 3.5 knots through the water, luckily the Irish Sea is pushing past Langess at almost three knots, it is going to take just over an hour to get back to Port St Mary.
I didn’t put any thick socks on before I left the house and by now, with just a thin pair in my boots, my feet are freezing and it is making the rest of me cold too. Later today I will take a pair of welly socks to the boathouse for the future, being out all night like this would be very very unpleasant and being that bit chilly sure slows down your thoughts and movements.
On the plus side, the sun rose some time around 0830 and it was a lovely morning. The white anvil shaped clouds over the island were lit up with pretty pink colour. It was a treat to watch the dawn at sea, although the last time I saw sunrise at sea I was in the tropics, shorts, t-shirt, sextant!
As we were coming back round Langness the waves were starting to pick up as the tide was increasing against the wind, it was pretty rocky in our big boat, so I’d say it would have been fairly uncomfortable in the little thing we were towing. As we headed further inshore it all settled down again into a comfortable tow and we in the harbour within a hour of picking them up.
Next we needed to get the stranded casualty alongside the harbour wall, the Inner Harbour was going to be the best option for this little boat, so the plan was to stop at our mooring, put a couple of crew in the boarding boat and use that to tow them into the harbour. In another one of those “make a call quickly” moments it was me that ended up in the boarding boat. I started her up and went back to the lifeboat to collect another crewman and then off to take the casualty vessel in an alongside tow, while our big boat went to refuel. It was a nice easy job on a flat calm day. Leaving our big boat to go a refuel we took the casualty to the harbour and left them alongside a ladder with a phone number for the local boat services.
I don’t know much about angling, but if it means getting up in the dark to go and sit on a cold boat for no pay, I don’t think it is a pastime for me.