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channel 16, 14, 00, 81, dammit, wobble, shake, 13, 16

Bip beep… Bip beep… Bip beep…  The initial pager alert this time is a gentle one, a quick glance around the house to make sure nothing is going to set fire while I’m gone and I’m heading for the door, then my phone rings.

We’ve recently added ourselves to a new system which, in theory, enables us to acknowledge whether or not we are responding to the shout, this is its first time in practice.  So, the pager alert triggers the programmed response, stand up and head for the car. Now before I’m even out the door I’m receiving an automated call where a recorded woman’s voice is slowly and calmly telling me what I already know. “Port…St…Mary….Lifeboat…has…a…tasking…from…the…coastguard” I shout YES at the phone assuming that is the correct thing to do before hanging up and getting back to the task of actually getting to the boat house.

I’m half way through the village when the pager goes again, this time the rather more urgent and louder Beep beep beeooo beeooo, the damn thing is vibrating in my pocket and making all this racket, I locate a button to silence the noise.  Now my phone is ringing again, this time from somewhere under the seat where it has fallen.. For heaven’s sake, I’m driving and I’m nearly at the station and I know it is that slow speaking woman again. I pull up outside and run away from the still ringing telephone.  

Into the boat house, the shout is for the ALB, they have a full crew assembled already, so I help by moving the tractor out of the boat house so the boarding boat can be launched.  Just off the tractor and more information has come in. The shout is to a vessel on the rocks, now it is sounding like an ILB job and I’m rushing back to the changing rooms to grab a place on that boat instead.  “Take me, take me, take meeeeee…..” They duly did.

Finding my drysuit turned into an ordeal, which saw me leaving the place looking like a tornado had hit.  We’ve been issued new kit, but none of the new kit had any names written on the feet and finding the right suit was a tad tricky.  Situation eventually resolved and we are launched, with 4 crew on board, out of the harbour ahead of the big boat.

“Belfast Coastguard, Belfast Coastguard, Belfast Coastguard, this is……” I’m on the VHF trying to raise the coastguard to let them know we’ve launched.  Silence. Shrug. Wait two minutes. Now we are out of the harbour, it is more challenging to operate anything with the boat shaking around. “Belfast Coastguard, Belfast Coastguard, Belfast Coastguard, this is……” More silence.  I’m not sure we’re transmitting. My fingers crash around the buttons again, squelch, volume, high power, channel 16, 14, 13, 00, 81, dammit, wobble, shake, 13, 16…. “Belfast Coastguard, Belfast Coastguard, Belfast Coastguard, this is……”  Silence.

“Belfast Coastguard, Belfast Coastguard, Belfast Coastguard, this is the ALB……”  wait a minute, we are at least receiving. Crash, wobble, shake, channel 00, phew!  We can hear the conversation between our big boat and the coastguard and now the information is flowing.

Of course, the casualty vessel was not quite where we were expecting to find it and had the coastguard team not been standing at the top of the gulley, we would probably still be looking for it now.  It was quite amazing really, of all the places the boat could have ended up, the wind and tide had taken it tucked away into a deep gulley. We were presented with a 20 odd foot sports powerboat thing, with five people still on board, fending themselves off the rocks and trying to keep afloat on the ebbing tide.  

It was pretty straightforward getting her out, with the weather and sea conditions well and truly in our favour, daylight, sunshine, flat water, not much wind – ideal!  Nose the bow in, it is shallow enough to for us to hop out and help manoeuvre the boat out, using our painter we make a bridle around the two transom cleats, then I hop back in the ILB and our helm is giving it hard astern.  Our tow is heavier than I expected and it takes a bit of pulling!

As we’re dragging the boat out, we appear to have lost one of our crew members.  He had been fending off the bow of the casualty vessel. Now we can’t see him. We thought he was going to get on to the boat.  It turns out he’s still hanging off the bow…. No wonder the tow was so uncooperative! We keep pulling the boat astern, he keeps holding on at the bow.

The plan is to transfer the tow to the ALB who will take it to the port it came from.  Our bowman in the water is instrumental in connecting the new tow, casualty handed over and we collect our own casualty from the water.  As we drag him over the side of the ILB we realise why he didn’t climb on to the casualty vessel…. He’s pretty heavy with a drysuit full of water!

At this point our helm decides to handover to someone else and I was shamelessly leaping that way before he’d finished the sentence.  We follow the ALB ready to assist at the harbour. Our inability to transmit makes formulating a plan difficult, so I take us in, slow speed transfer style, sticking the two boats together so we can have a chat.

With the tide dropping we decide it is easier for us to take the casualty for the final push in to the harbour.  We also ask the big boat to let the coastguard know we are here too, since up to now we haven’t been able to speak to them.  I ease off the throttle to try to separate us and laugh as we are sucked back in again. Second attempt and we are clear.

On approach to the harbour entrance there is another obstacle in the way.  A work boat is towing a log out of the harbour, asking us to stand off for a few minutes.  The big boat keeps steaming in…. We realise that the big boat probably missed that message as they were talking to the coastguard.  The penny dropped as we relayed the information and we elect to transfer the tow out here, now.

We arrange ourselves in an alongside tow, the log is cleared and we’re heading in to the harbour, I line us up for the slipway and get us there perfectly, two crew hop out and we quickly drop the tow, retrieve our lines and back out into deeper water.

There’s a fair old audience around now, and I guess we are putting on a good show, a Trent and a D-Class and all kinds of people in yellow, and people in blue, all packed in to this small harbour!

Finally the vessel safely secured on the trailer, I collect our crew, hauling the contents of a sodden drysuit over the side – again and we’re off on the run home, he’s cold, but admits to being too proud to ask to get on the big boat, so he sits tight getting close up to the crew for a bit of shelter from the wind and a bit of warmth.

It is like lifeboat day, we are sat behind the Trent and I’m having a great time in the waves… A Trent at slow to mid speed puts out a hell of a wake, giving us a couple of exciting moments before throttles on for home.  Now we’re chasing and keeping up, white water, wash and spray kicking up all around us, sun shining, everything is bright and this is soooo much fun. Heaven is a D-Class!

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