An RNLI lifeboat coxswain who towed a yacht to safety off the southeast coast said he has never witnessed wind speeds like those with Storm Ophelia.
Eamonn O’Rourke, coxswain of the RNLI Rosslare all-weather lifeboat, said that the three English crew on the rescued yacht were “very lucky to be alive”.
“If the Mayday had been half an hour later, they would have been on the Arklow Bank,” Mr O’Rourke said.
His operations manager, Dave Maloney, said it was one of the “trickiest launches in a long time”.
Mr O’Rourke and his seven crew on the Severn class vessel put to sea from Rosslare shortly after 10am on Monday at the height of the storm on the south coast when the alarm was raised, and steamed into seven to eight metre (20 to 25 foot) waves.
The 10-metre yacht had been en route from Southampton in England to Malahide in Dublin, and had hoped to get in ahead of the weather, Mr Maloney said.
“They issued the Mayday after they failed to get into Wexford harbour and were being swamped by heavy seas,”Mr Maloney said.
Mr O’Rourke and his crew of Padraig Quirke, Michael Nicholas, Art Sheil, Micheal Ferguson, Stephen Breen, Richie Parish and Keith Morris reached the yacht some 12 miles off Rosslare, close to Cahore point in Co Wexford.
Drogue on board
The lifeboat crew put a drogue on board to steady the yacht. The conical-shaped device is deployed on the stern of a vessel to slow it down in a storm and keep the hull perpendicular to the waves.
“It took several attempts to do that, and then several more attempts to secure a tow, and it was just as well we got it on as we would never been able to take them off the yacht in the heavy seas,” Mr O’Rourke said.
“The yacht crew were really in shock, but were otherwise okay and glad to see us,” he said. The lifeboat towed the yacht into Rosslare, arriving into the harbour at about 1.25pm. At that point, wind speeds were about 140km an hour.
"I have been in seas worse than that, but not in winds as strong as that," he said. In the northeast, gardaí sought air-sea rescue assistance when several kite surfers among a group of five surfers in Dundalk Bay disappeared from view.
The Irish Coast Guard’s Rescue 116 helicopter was tasked. However, the surfers made it back to shore, and the emergency services were stood down.