It’s the last Sunday of April 2019 a grey cold day, a huge crowd has gathered at the pier in Wicklow harbour but no one is celebrating, it is an emotional day as all eyes are on the RNLI boathouse to see Annie Blaker launch for the final time, the beloved lifeboat of the Wicklow RNLI, the last operational Tyne Class lifeboat in the RNLI’s fleet.
Annie arrived in Wicklow in 1989 the same year as station mechanic Brendan Copeland started his service with the Wicklow RNLI, little did Brendan know Annie would become like a daughter to him.
Not one member of the crew would get to know her and trust her like Brendan did.
Speaking after he and the Wicklow RNLI crew launched her for the last time, Brendan said “Annie was the safest boat that ever floated on the sea, every time we went on a call I was confident we would all return home safe, people always ask me am I frighted when we launch in storms and gales and I can honestly say, I am more than frighted I am terrified. It is not natural to go out into the open sea when the waves are lashing the pier and the rocks, but when we are called it has to be done.”
“Of the 348 calls the one that stands out for me most was in 2014 when a brand new French trawler lost power in a force 10 easterly gale and was blowing towards the rocks at Wicklow head, Annie was launched and I can honestly say as we went around the pier the sea was boiling. We managed to get a line to the boat which was 5 times the size of Annie and towed it back to Wicklow, it felt like we were in a teapot that was being shook to make the tea stronger.”
The trawler was tied up in the harbour but the drama was not over, when we thought the job was done the ropes broke and the trawler began to drift back out to sea, once again we managed to get a line and Annie pulled for all she was worth again we managed to get the trawler back to safety, the 3 men on the stricken vessel had not been trained properly and little did they know when they lost power all the had to do was reset the computer and power would have been fully restored.
It came at a cost to Annie as when I opened up the engine cover the engine mounts were broken not only broken but bent into a knot such was the pressure from pulling the trawler, in human terms it would be like pulling a car with a broken back, Annie was never the same after that and she seemed to say to me “Brendan me time has come” but she kept going for another 5 years and never let us down.”
“You’re asking me if I’m sad or emotional today? I’m more than that I’m heartbroken, to borrow a quote used for the Blasket Islanders “the likes will never be seen again.