Seven members of Arklow RNLI have been honoured for their roles in a challenging and exhausting service, almost seven hours in duration, which saw a crew of three people, onboard a nine-metre yacht rescued. For his exceptional display of seamanship in the service, a Signed Letter of Thanks from the Chairman of the Institution was awarded to Arklow RNLI Coxswain Brendan Dillon. For their teamwork in challenging sea conditions and their part in completing a highly effective service, individual Chief Executive Commendations were awarded to 2nd Mechanic Eddie McElheron and volunteer crewmembers Austin Gaffney, Geoffrey Kearns, Trevor Conroy, Craig O’Reilly, Daniel Downey.
The rescue was carried out on 4 August 2020, 24 nautical miles east-southeast of Arklow. The 9-metre yacht, Infinite Jest was on passage from Newlyn, in England to Largs, in Scotland, and was experiencing very poor weather and rough sea conditions, with the crew of three people, suffering from exhaustion and seasickness. It was a demanding service, also involving a tow from the lifeboat, which lasted over three hours, in winds up to Force 8, with upwards of 5-metre swells, at night. The service itself lasted nearly seven hours.
On launching in Force 7 conditions, at 6.58pm that evening, the Coxswain of Arklow lifeboat, Brendan Dillon, headed towards the last reported position of the yacht, Infinite Jest, immediately feeling the effect of the conditions as they left the shelter afforded by land. On receiving an updated position from the Coast Guard, he adjusted his course to cross the Arklow Bank, to intercept the yacht. In doing this, while operating in such challenging sea conditions, he enabled the lifeboat to significantly reduce their time to reach the casualty vessel.
On successfully crossing Arklow Bank, the lifeboat’s primary navigation system was non-operational, with only the secondary GPS fully functional. The Coxswain requested the Navigator, Trevor Conroy, to calculate their position using speed and direction. In Force eight winds and a five-metre swell, the Arklow lifeboat Ger Tigchelaar arrived on scene at 8.20pm, having successfully located the casualty vessel.
The yacht, which was sailing with only her jib set, was instructed to take up a course behind the lifeboat, to be escorted to Wicklow Harbour, as the nearest safe port. After an hour on this course the yacht’s skipper informed the lifeboat, by VHF Radio, that it was proving difficult to maintain their course under sail and they were making poor headway. The Coxswain then asked the skipper if they could take in their sail and use their engine to maintain their course, behind the lifeboat, until they were closer to land.
As darkness was falling, the lifeboat took the yacht under tow, as the crew were exhausted and suffering from seasickness. Three members of the Arklow Lifeboat crew, led by Austin Gaffney, passed a heaving line to the casualty vessel. In very challenging conditions, the tow was established with the lifeboat maintaining radio contact with the yacht every 15 minutes, providing technical guidance, encouraging the tired crew to hydrate, offering support and informing them of progress to safe harbour. Wicklow RNLI were also placed on stand-by to launch if required, with their shore crew ready to receive both vessels into Wicklow Harbour.
As the lifeboat neared the Harbour, the crew of the yacht informed them that due to crew exhaustion, they could not make the berth under their own power and would require further support. The Coxswain requested Eddie McElheron to board the yacht, in full protective equipment to assist. The lifeboat arrived into Wicklow Harbour at 12.55am with the Infinite Jest on an alongside tow.
In recognising Coxswain Brendan Dillon’s role in commanding the lifeboat during such a challenging rescue, RNLI Chair Stuart Popham said he ‘showed excellent leadership qualities and sound decision making under the pressure of knowing what a precarious situation the casualty was in, and the risks presented to his lifeboat and crew. Throughout, he led by example, extolling the core values of the RNLI in all his actions.’
In awarding the lifeboat crew for their actions on the service, Mr. Popham added, ‘This was a demanding service. The sea conditions, towing at night and crew transfer all presented risk and challenges. The crew demonstrated courage and resilience throughout. The deck crew on the Lifeboat performed faultlessly, showing skill, teamwork and a high degree of professionalism.’
The presentations were made during Arklow RNLI’s sold-out fundraising event ‘Dan’s Hurry to the Curry, which was held at the Arklow Bay Hotel after an absence of a few years due to the pandemic. The awards were presented on the night by RNLI Trustee and Chair of the Irish Council, Mr. John Killeen.
Pictured above: Arklow RNLI Awardees for Infinite Jest Callout. Front Row L-R: Geoffrey Kearns, Coxswain Brendan Dillon, 2nd Mechanic Eddie McElheron. Back Row L-R: Trevor Conroy, Daniel Downey, Craig O’Reilly and Austin Gaffney