Blimey – that was a game of two halves!!
Nice morning as we got up at Neyland, a bit overcast and a little more windy than hoped for but nothing serious.
Nice breakfast at the marina followed by catching up with various of the entrants. As ever on these events it is always a mad rush as things need fixing, bits need sorting and so on. Hannah & Mo’s Seaswift/Highfield RIB was only able to get there in the morning so everything was a bit delayed in sorting the jobs on their boat – fixing the EPIRB, programming waypoints etc.
Around 1100 - 1130 everyone that had gone through scrutineering by Hugo departed to congregate in the main channel. Everyone present and the RIBs begin their run past Milford Haven and out past St Anns Head.
The rough plan (although it is up to individual boats to decide where they go) was to pass north of Skokholm Island and south of Skomer Island then north of an area of shallows known as the smalls.
Wind against tide created some large and very confused seas as the flotilla passed through between the islands and we felt for the smaller RIBs (which we are shadowing) at the back of the fleet as we looked on from Top Hat. Hannah was driving Pink Panther and did a fab job guiding her and Mo through – it has to be said watching your daughter and not being able to give guidance in her ear may be great for her but not great for parents watching!! ☺
Past the overfalls we crack on and the seas ease. As it eases one RIB checks in to return to Milford Haven with a seasick person on board. Another RIB (Cetus) suffers issues with its GPS mounts and stops, we hang back and get separated from the rest of the fleet as Cetus gets going again. It was always going to be impossible to keep eyes on all of the smaller vessels but it is a shame that we got separated so early – not that it was anyone’s fault. We pick up a good pace with Cetus a mile or two off to starboard and as we get towards Kilmore Quay we separate as we decided to go south of Great Saltee and in the ‘back door’. Cetus with less draught and in great conditions heads up further north to the entrance from the east known as St Patricks Bridge.
We take a VHF call from Rascal to say they are down to one engine and being accompanied by Jurgen in the 4m Searider (a great looking boat – more of which another time)
Rounding the Great and Little Saltee Islands Ireland looks fab, the sun is out, we are 200m short of our final waypoint at a safe water mark due south of the entrance and things change…..
We take a call VHF call from Kilmore Harbour Master who is with Hugo and alerts us to Milford Haven Coastguard co-ordinating the response to a PLB that has been set off. It seems it relates to a 4.8m RIB. I have been in a few ‘incidents’ over the years but it was a sickening feeling. The seas had been rough and one of the smaller boats could easily have gone over but we were sure that as we dealt with the issues referred to re Cetus etc the smaller RIBs were all ahead of us. We couldn’t work out who it was as we could account for everyone.
We spoke to Rosslare Coastguard to advise them of our route and the specific track we had followed and listened as Rosslare CG and MH CG directed various assets including an Irish Warship to the scene. We obtained the lat/long from Rosslare and plotted the PLB position as just north of the Smalls just outside Milford Haven – the time given for the PLB made no sense.
We entered Kilmore Quay and refuelled as we heard the cross channel ferry that the support crews were on was directed to the scene. We considered returning but were 3 hours away and there was a helicopter and lifeboats searching so we tied up and just listening. Not good.
Increasingly it was looking as if the RIB was not one of our fleet as Hugo checked the lists.
Time passes – very slowly, it doesn’t feel good. An MOB in those seas would find it really tough. The PLB info identifies it as a RIB that Hugo is are 99.99% sure had not indicated that it would be crossing with us from Neyland – everything remains confused. Shore crew on the cross channel ferry remember seeing a RIB fitting the description launching at Neyland as they left the marina some time after the RIBs had departed.
Thankfully about 30 minutes later we receive a call from Rosslare CG that a helo on scene is lifting a casualty from the water. At that stage they cannot confirm the status of the casualty.
Over the next 15 minutes and from a mixture of Hugo’s direct contact with Milford and our contact with Rosslare we learn that indeed the RIB whilst partaking in the RI13 challenge was definitely not on the group transiting from Neyland and had launched later and decided on a solo transit to Kilmore. Initial reports indict the solo helmsman was thrown from the vessel and ended up spending a couple of hours in the water. He was wearing a LJ, drysuit and PLB. Had he not got the PLB and the drysuit it is highly debatable whether he would have survived – there is little other traffic in the area
After being winched into the helo he was then put back on the RIB and returned to Milford.
So what are the lessons? The specified kit list saved this persons life (probably). Whilst we were 99.99% sure the vessel was not part of our fleet it was a very confusing situation initially – whilst we were very sure it wasn’t one of the ones we were sheperding the fact we were separated though caused doubt, it makes you wonder if we had failed to get the lists correct, missed one off – Hugo hadn’t but you wonder nonetheless.
And the event – that starts tomorrow – lets hope for a less eventful few days!
Distance travelled: 80 miles (ish)
Fuel used: 230 litres
Distance travelled: 365 miles
Fuel used: 1187 litres