They each led a team of volunteer crew members in a joint rescue of a stricken trawler in rough seas, gale force winds and icy conditions. Working together, the two lifeboat crews successfully rescued four people on board the fishing boat and brought the vessel safely back to harbour using skill, courage and team work. They managed all this despite the Troon lifeboat being short-handed after one crew member was taken ill and evacuated on the way to the scene.
RNLI Operations Director, George Rawlinson, said: ‘The impressive team work of Coxswains Joe Millar and Gary McGarvie saved four people from a perilous situation, while also ensuring their own crews stayed safe. It is no mean feat to tow a large, disabled fishing vessel into a harbour in heavy seas and freezing squally conditions. It is a testament to their boat handling skill, leadership and courage that this rescue had such a successful outcome.’
Troon’s full-time Coxswain Joe Millar, who has been with the charity for 25 years, said, ‘The weather conditions were just horrendous, the worst that I have been in.
‘It was a big fishing boat, one of the largest from the fleet in Troon and I knew the guys on the boat. We had challenging weather, a large boat and our mechanic had to be airlifted off on the way out to the shout due to illness which meant we were one crew short.
‘But all the training provided by the RNLI came into play without a shadow of a doubt and I am very proud that Troon station and a flanking station are being honoured for what was a fantastic team effort.’
Girvan’s Second Coxswain Gary McGarvie, who works for Police Scotland and has been an RNLI volunteer for nearly 20 years, said, ’I have to take my hat off to the Girvan crew, they did everything I could have expected from them in such challenging conditions and it just goes to show that the training is invaluable.
‘I am so pleased that the crew are being recognised as well for at the end of the day I just see myself as the guy that pulled everything together.’
The seven crew members also involved will each receive a framed Letter of Thanks from the Chairman for their courage, determination and seamanship.
Detailed account of the rescue:
The incident took place on Wednesday 14 January 2015 in poor light, a force 9 gale, with snow squalls and driving freezing rain.
Both Troon’s Trent class and Girvan’s Mersey class all-weather lifeboats were requested to launch by Belfast Coastguard at around 2pm to go to the aid of a fishing boat in trouble off Turnberry Point. The boat, a 15-metre trawler called Spes Bona 5, had its fishing net tangled round its propeller and was drifting towards the shore.
The Girvan lifeboat arrived on scene at 2.45pm. The four crew of the fishing boat were trying to cut away their net to free the propeller and rudder but the heavy seas were making this extremely difficult. Waves were breaking over the trawler’s stern.
The Troon lifeboat was still fighting to get to the scene, battling against the weather, in extremely demanding conditions. The mechanic, Andrew Alston, was feeling unwell and his condition rapidly deteriorated during the course of the passage. A boat to boat transfer of the crewman was too hazardous in the sea state and as there was no harbour where he could be landed safely, the Coxswain took the decision to have him airlifted from the vessel so he could be taken to hospital. Coxswain Millar requested helicopter evacuation, which was carried out by a Royal Navy search and rescue helicopter.
In order to carry out the evacuation safely, the lifeboat had to head inshore to find slightly calmer waters. This was done at 4.10pm and the lifeboat continued to head to its destination, a man down.
By that time, the trawler crew had successfully cut away the net but wires still fouled the propeller and the rudder was jammed.
With winds rising and the seas building to 7-8 metres, Girvan lifeboat managed to get a towline to the stricken vessel. As darkness fell, Troon lifeboat joined the scene and the two coxswains discussed by VHF radio how best to get the fishing boat into Troon Harbour.
It was decided that Troon, as the more powerful boat, would take the tow and pull the trawler into the harbour, while Girvan would move to the rear of the vessel, where a line would be run between the trawler’s stern and the lifeboat in order to try to control the fishing vessel in the challenging weather conditions.
It took three attempts to attach a tow to the trawler but eventually it was done, and the lifeboats manoeuvred their way into the harbour, with the trawler between them; the Troon and Girvan crews working in harmony in order to guide the boat to safety.
At 6.30pm, after an arduous four and a half hours at sea, both lifeboats and the fishing vessel arrived safely at Troon Harbour, where the vessel was securely berthed.
Mr Rawlinson said: ‘Not only had the lifeboats prevented the trawler from going aground, they had done so short-handed – in the case of Troon – and with a trainee crewmember on each boat. The more experienced lifeboat volunteers not only successfully fulfilled their roles but also safely guided their newer crewmates through the operation. And all of this was done in a severe gale and freezing conditions, with poor visibility.
‘I’d like to thank both the crews involved in this service for their commitment and also their families, who support our volunteers in their lifesaving work.’
Notes to Editors:
Summary of awards:
• Thanks of the Institution on Vellum - Troon Coxswain, Joe Millar
• Thanks of the Institution on Vellum – Girvan Second Coxswain, Gary McGarvie
• Framed Letter of Thanks from the RNLI Chairman – Troon Second Mechanic Alan Craig
• Framed Letter of Thanks from the RNLI Chairman – Troon Deputy Mechanic Paul Moreledge
• Framed Letter of Thanks from the RNLI Chairman – Girvan Deputy Mechanic Barry Hubbard
• Framed Letter of Thanks from the RNLI Chairman – Girvan Crewmember Henry McMaster
• Framed Letter of Thanks from the RNLI Chairman – Girvan Crewmember John Tait
• Framed Letter of Thanks from the RNLI Chairman – Troon Trainee Crewmember Trevor Boyes
• Framed Letter of Thanks from the RNLI Chairman – Girvan Trainee Crewmember Keith Woods
For more information please contact Richard Smith, Public Relations Manager for Scotland, on 07786 668903 or email@example.com. Or contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.