On Tuesday 27 September we launched at 5.14pm to assist a twenty-one metre steel fishing vessel, with one person on board, that had lost steerage south of Cuckmere.
The situation was revealed to be more time critical than first anticipated during the crew briefing prior to launch. Newhaven’s volunteer crew heard the cross channel ferry radioing HM Coastguard using the prefix Mayday.
The ferry informed HM Coastguard they were standing by the steel fishing boat, creating a lee for the casualty vessel, in an attempt to ease the rolling effect of the moderate sea.
The lifeboat and her six crew made best speed to the position. Once on scene an initial assessment of the vessel was carried out.
Lewis Arnold, Coxswain, says: ‘The vessel seemed to be in reasonable condition. But, due to the wind strength increasing and sea state with heavy ground swell, the fishing boat was rolling violently.’
The vessel was heading quickly towards shallow water and the rocky reefs. The Lifeboat made verbal contact with the distressed casualty. The decision was made to transfer an RNLI crew-member over to the casualty vessel.
Several attempts were made to transfer the crew in the lull of the vessel’s roll, however, the circumstance did not prevail. This plan was aborted given the potential for damage and crew injury.
‘At points both props and rudders could be seen out the water, while the vessel rolled down the waves. We were able to see that the rudders were slightly to starboard.’
Instead, Newhaven RNLI launched the Y-class lifeboat. The volunteer crew was successfully transferred to the casualty vessel without issue.
The lifeboat moved away into clear water for a short time whilst the crew prepared the deck for a tow. The Lifeboat manoeuvred down sea with the ground swell to get as close as was safely possible. Crew successfully passed the heaving line and tow across to the casualty vessel, which was still rolling violently in the swell.
With only approximately two metres below the boats at this time, the casualty was at imminent risk of running aground. The tow was initially set at 50 metres, until deeper waters were reached where the tow was paid out to approximately 180 metres.
Once approaching the harbour, the tow was shortened to proceed up through the narrows. Due to the incoming tide, the vessel was then bought alongside the lifeboat, to allow effective steerage, both vessels moving together as one. The lifeboat turned into the tide before placing the casualty vessel on the visitors pontoon at Newhaven marina. They were met by local CRT who assisted with lines.
‘The crew worked tirelessly throughout this service of over six hours, in high spirits and with a safe manner. The deck work and seamanship shown by Newhaven’s volunteers was outstanding and a credit to the world class RNLI training they have received.’