A yacht was being smashed against the rocks at Inishark Island. In strong winds, swell and spray, the crew from Clifden Lifeboat Station braved a challenging rescue…
When lifeboat Helm Alan Pryce checked the weather that day, he knew it was going to be rough at sea. ‘My house is next to the shore, and I’d noted the strong south-east wind,’ he says.
Alan’s pager went off around 5pm, alerting him and fellow Clifden crew to a shipwrecked sailor whose 8m yacht was being battered against the forbidding rocks at Inishark, an uninhabited island 12 miles away.
Two lifeboats were launched: the Shannon and the inshore Atlantic 85 lifeboat. Alan was aboard the Atlantic, with crew mates Ian Shanahan, Alvin Bell and Alvin’s father Andy Bell.
Navigating a 2m swell and raging winds, the volunteer lifesavers spotted the yacht and the sailor, who cut a lone figure on the rocks.
‘I had to get ashore to reach him,’ Crew Member Ian says. ‘Alan took me within 1m of the rocks, but we kept moving up and down due to the swell. It’s best not to hesitate in these situations. I leaped and landed on all fours. Thankfully the rocks weren’t slippery, but they were sharp with mussels, cutting my hand.’
The sailor, who had hit his head a few times, was in shock but had no major injuries. Ian talked him into getting checked out at hospital, to be sure he was OK. Accompanied by Ian, he was airlifted to safety from the top of the cliff, by the Coast Guard helicopter.
Unfortunately, the yacht couldn’t be saved. But, as Ian points out, ‘fibreglass can be replaced, people cannot.’
It was a relief that the sailor was safe, but the rest of the crew had more challenges ahead.
‘While Ian was on shore, our two propellers got wrapped up in lobster lines,’ says Crew Member Alvin. ‘Both engines cut out. I jumped down, freed the ropes, started up and we were gone straight away.’
The journey home was draining. Facing a force 9 head-on wind and 3m of swell, the crew couldn’t lose concentration for a second. ‘We all trust each other on our crew,’ says Alvin. ‘As helm, Alan had most of the responsibility on his shoulders. He’s one of a kind. He’d never put you in danger.’
RNLI crew drop everything at a moment’s notice to answer the call for help, leaving cold dinners, cancelled dates and their children. ‘We leave at all hours, heading into what might seem mundane to us crew, but can seem frightening to those we leave behind,’ says Ian. ‘We rely entirely on their willingness to take it on the chin, to pick up the pieces and carry on as normal until we return – often too late or too tired to help.’
The crew’s families and friends understand that without the volunteer’s selfless courage, lives would be lost at sea. And, it’s thanks to generous donors who leave gifts to the RNLI in their Wills, that those brave crew return home safely. However big or small, a gift in your Will can provide the training, kit and equipment that crew like Alan, Andy, Ian and Alvin rely on. The vital training that helped Clifden crew skilfully navigate the lifeboat close to the rocks at Inishark. Or the protective kit and equipment that helped keep them safe when they battled against gale force winds and rough seas. As Crew Member Andy adds: ‘None of it would be possible without the generosity of all our donors.’
Find out more by requesting your free gifts in Wills guide