Not “just another day” lobster potting in Trearddur Bay

It was a typical Treaddur Bay day last Monday when we woke up.  The weather was fair and the wind was up, but not excessively so.  However, the sea state was such that the OOD raised the chequered flag to the top of the flagstaff to indicate that the two re-scheduled races for the day from Trearddur Bay to Holyhead and return were cancelled.  The seas between the Fangs and South Stack would be far too big for the fleet of Half-Raters to make the trip safely.

This is a common occurrence at Trearddur.  You go to bed in the evening, your crew are lined up for the next day’s racing, you wake up and find that you have a completely clear day to fill.  It takes some people a while to get used to this unpredictability, but once you do, you fill the day with other interesting activities, as we did on that day.

Later in the day, we decided to spend a couple of hours lobster potting, so at around 5.00pm I took four of our lobster pots out of the shed and walked them down to the beach, two at a time. Next step was to pick up the RIB from Porth Diana and to make my way back to the beach to pick up Vanessa, Georgie, the lobster pots and some bait.  The whole process took about 30 minutes or so to complete.

As we headed out to go potting, I was pleased that we had delayed our lobster potting trip until late in the day.  The winds had dropped, as had the seas.  It would be much easier to lay the pots close to the rocks, which is generally considered to be the best place to position lobster pots.  We might also have the opportunity to go for a blast in the RIB around the coast to Rhoscolyn if time permitted.

After a brief discussion, we decided to lay our lobster pots to the South West of the main horseshoe bay at Trearddur around Ravenspoint.  I pointed the RIB in the appropriate direction and we made our way quickly to the area.

Ravenspoint 1

As we approached Ravenspoint, I thought back to the time last week when I was on rescue boat duty in the RIB.  On that occasion, the engine had been idling for a short while and when I pulled back the throttle to attend a capsized laser dinghy, rather than the RIB rising quickly out of the water, the engine spluttered and conked out.  I convinced myself that there must be some air in the fuel line, so I gave the hand pump on the fuel line two firm squeezes and returned to the control panel to restart the engine – it fired up first time!

Turning back to last Monday, we went quite close up to Ravenspoint, navigating our way through five or six lobster pots on the way, until we were about 20 metres away from the rocks.  The tide and wind were unfavourable, so as we prepared and baited the first pot, we drifted slowly towards the rocks.  By the time we were ready, the distance between us and the rocks had halved, so I put the engine into reverse to take us back to a safe distance.  And then …. the engine failed again, as it had done that day when I was on rescue duty.

The adrenaline levels rose rapidly as I went to the stern of the boat to give the fuel pump those two important squeezes and then to return to the console.  The ignition failed to gain traction, so I returned once more to the stern to give the fuel pump two more squeezes.

As I returned to the console for the second time, the distance between us and the rocks had shrunk rapidly to about two metres.  If the engine didn’t start this time, we would be in difficulty to say the least.  I was therefore reassured when the sound of the Mercury 90 indicated that it had fired back into life.  Thank heavens for that!

I put the engine quickly into reverse so as to avoid the rocks, but within a couple of seconds, the engine died again.  Distance between us and the rocks – one metre and reducing!  We’re in difficulty now I thought to myself – and we were.

The waves started to break over the stern of the RIB as we were pushed up against the cliff.  The sound of fibreglass meeting rock was disturbing and the speed with which the boat filled with water was so so short.  We became increasingly wedged in the valley between two of the rocks at the tip of Ravenspoint.  Not pleasant at all.

Ravenspoint 2

Realising that we were now in serious trouble, I switched the VHF to channel 16 and went through my version of the “PAN PAN” procedure.  Holyhead Coastguard were right on the case and we let them know the situation and where we were.  They were very efficient, calm and patient, quickly confirming that the Trearddur Bay Life Boat had been scrambled.  They checked that we were wearing life jackets which I was pleased to be able to confirm.  However, I must admit, that, despite my external appearances for the sake of Vanessa and Georgie, I was not quite as calm as Holyhead Coastguard at the time.

The RIB quickly filled with water and it was repeatedly bashed up against the rocks.  We slowly became wedged in a small valley between two of the rocks at the very tip of Ravenspoint and as we did, we saw an opportunity for Vanessa and Georgie to climb off the RIB onto the rocks which they did.  They then climbed the cliff up to safety and called for help.

As the waves continued to pound against the rear transom and the RIB continued to be pushed further and further into the valley.  I could do nothing but sit on board, waiting for the RNLI to arrive, which they did within ten minutes of my call.  What a relief it was to see them powering around the corner to meet me.

Dafydd was at the helm of the Life Boat, with two of his team in support.  They quickly assessed the situation, threw me a line and pulled us from the bow of the RIB right through the valley in those rocks to comparative safety, 100 metres offshore.

Once the RIB was in safe waters, I cut the lobster pot rope that had fallen over the side unnoticed whilst I was trying to get engine started from the propeller.  It was this which had caused the engine to fail the second time. Dafydd then towed me back to the RIB’s mooring back in Porth Diana.  Once on the mooring, Dafydd and his team returned to their base, calling “that’s a pint of Carling Black Label you owe us”.  I smiled to myself, knowing that I owed them much more than that.

The bilge pump had been on for about fifteen minutes by the time I was back at the mooring.  Fifteen more and the RIB was dry.  She looked in good shape given what she’d been through, although I knew that things would be different below the water line.

I went back to shore in the tender and was met by Mike Davis, who told me that Vanessa and Georgie were back at his house with his wife Rosie having a cup of tea to recover.  It’s great the way that people help like Mike and Rosie did that day.

I returned with Mike to collect Vanessa and Georgie, and to return home to Eithin Bach.  It was a relief to be back home after all that had gone on over the preceding three hours.  We decided to go down to the RNLI station at Trearddur Bay to thank the team and we picked up three slabs of Carling Black Label on our way!

The next day, I had the good fortune to run into the Club’s Rescue Officer, Ed Bentley, who greeted me as “Pan Pan Porter”. It didn’t take long and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I’m called this knowing the TBSC folk as I do.

Two days later, I received an update from the engineer who had managed to get the engine working again.  There was water in the fuel in the engine and it is that which had caused the engine to fail.

There is a lot I learned about the sea that day.  Most importantly, it highlighted to me that there is a lot more I have yet to learn.

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