Lady Swaythling 2009
LADY SWAYTHLING TROPHY to Coxswain Gary Fairbairn for saving the lives of two people on board the yacht Ouhm on 15 May 2009.
Forth Coastguard called the Dunbar Lifeboat Operations Manager at 1706 on 15th May 2009 requesting the launch of their all weather lifeboat to provide assistance to the yacht Ouhm with 2 persons onboard in difficulties 37 nautical miles east north east of Dunbar.
A force 8 gale was blowing from the east north east; the sea state was very rough with 5 to 7 metres of swell at the launch site. Visibility was at best moderate at approximately 2 to 5 nautical miles. The crew consisted of Coxswain Gary Fairbairn; Mechanic Kenny Peters, Stuart Pirie, Kevin Keillor, Brian Cleator and John Watt.
Before the lifeboat launched Forth Coastguard informed the crew that R/T Magic, a 31 metre 995 ton tug was also proceeding to the assistance of yacht Ouhm. The yacht was reported to have suffered 2 knockdowns and was experiencing difficulty coping with the extreme weather conditions. There were two persons onboard and under bare poles they were drifting at speeds of up to 5 knots towards the lee shore on the north side of the Firth of Forth. At 1730 the Trent class lifeboat, RNLB John Neville Taylor, launched. As the lifeboat cleared the breakwaters at Torness they began to experience 7 metre seas. Speed was restricted to 15 knots for the first hour of steaming. Further offshore the swell became larger and the wind increased to a severe gale force 9. The lifeboat was hit by several breaking seas and these resulted in fendering being torn away, the bow fairlead unlatching and the salvage pump breaking free twice. Once the pump was securely lashed down again the lifeboat continued steaming towards the casualty until she fell about 10 metres from the top of a large wave. At this point vibration was felt along the starboard shaft line so Mechanic Peters went below to investigate whilst Coxswain Fairbairn held the lifeboat head to sea using the port shaft alone. Mechanic Peters reported all was well in the engine room and the lifeboat increased speed. At this point she was hit on her starboard side by a very large, breaking wave. She was laid down onto her beam ends on her port side. The port side wheelhouse windows were underwater and the braces on the whip aerial were bent through the force of the water. The lifeboat swiftly returned to the upright position allowing Coxswain Fairbairn to continue passage towards the casualty.
By 1945 the lifeboat was in the vicinity of the casualty. Yacht Ouhm was not visible owing to the sea state, however Coxswain Fairbairn and his crew were able to see R/T Magic who was keeping station upwind of Ouhm in an attempt to provide the best possible lee. Eventually the lifeboat located Ouhm, she was only visible when her masthead light shone between the waves, which were by now around 10 metres high. Ouhm was lying stern to sea with a drogue of some description deployed.
Coxswain Fairbairn made a rapid assessment of the situation and decided that the crew of two required evacuation and the yacht should be abandoned, as a tow would be impossible. After confirming that the yacht was not carrying a liferaft it became apparent that the lifeboat would have to get alongside Ouhm.
Once the plan had been decided the lifeboat contacted the skipper of the yacht and informed him of the decision to evacuate him and his wife. The lifeboat crew manned the deck in readiness for an approach to put the lifeboat alongside.
The drogue deployed by the yacht was overwhelmed by the conditions and was no longer able to hold the Ouhm stern to sea. This meant the first approach had to be made whilst the yacht was laid beam on to the sea. The resulting approach was difficult and the lifeboat was hit by a wave in the late stages, which could have caused a heavy collision that may have damaged the yacht badly or even sunk her.
Having checked his crew were still secure and well on deck, Coxswain Fairbairn applied full power astern to maintain separation between the two vessels before bringing the lifeboat around for another approach.
On the second attempt the lifeboat slowly approached the casualty heading into sea. At the last moment Coxswain Fairbairn made a tight turn to port, placing the lifeboat starboard side to alongside the casualty. The crew on deck were able to snatch the female casualty from the deck of the yacht and drag her onboard the lifeboat. At the same time a lifejacket was thrown to the remaining male casualty.
Coxswain Fairbairn used exactly the same technique to make a third approach alongside Ouhm. On this occasion the male was pulled from the deck and over the guardrails of the lifeboat. Both casualties were quickly secured in the wheelhouse and Coxswain Fairbairn having passed his thanks to R/T Magic started their passage back to Torness.
The lifeboat arrived back at Torness at 2215, a service of just under 5 hours duration in heavy weather.