Port St Mary Lifeboat Station - Callouts

17 May 1981 Yacht Melfort; Wind Easterly Gale force 8

On Sunday, 17th May, 1981, the took part in one of those epic rescues which fill the annals of the R.N.L.I. Early on that Sunday morning the Ramsey Coastguard passed the information to Port St. Mary that a yacht was aground at Derbyhaven on t he seaward side of the breakwater, having broken her moorings. By nine o'clock the Castletown Coastguard rocket brigade was preparing to take off the crew, thought to be two, from the 42ft ketch while the maroons were fired at Port St. Mary. The Gough Ritcbie slipped her moorings at 9. 10 a.m. under Coxswain Mechanic Norman Quillin. Heading into a strong ESE wind, gusting to gale force 8, the lifeboat battled the rough seas as she crossed Bay ny Carrickey, and Castletown Bay for Langness Point. By 9 .30 St. Michael's Isle was rounded and on entering Derbyhaven the white hull of the stricken yacht, later identified as the Melfort,was spotted aground on rocks about 80 yards on the seaward side of the breakwater. Two people wearing protective clothing could be seen standing on the starboard side of the deck as the yacht rose and fell on the rocks with water breaking over and around her.

Yacht Melfort aground with 54-06 arriving at Derbyhaven Breakwater

- copyright photgraph Rick Tomlinson

The Coastguard was now in position on the north side and requested the lifeboat to stand off as a breeches buoy was being rigged from the shore to the yacht. In reply the Coxswain gave orders for the inflatable 'Y' dinghy on board to be launched to give help if necessary. This was done to the lee side of the breakwater to which the Gougb Ritcbie was made fast. The dinghy, with Eric Quillin as helmsman and William Halsall as crew member, moved in the sheltered water to the north end of the breakwater, and stood by.

Just after ten o'clock one man was rescued by breeches-buoy. Then it was seen that there were three others on board the yacht and it was thought that it would be possible for the Coastguard to rescue all of them. But soon afterwards the terrible battering the was taking resulted in the yacht beginning to disintegrate. Her wheelhouse was carried away and the breeches-buoy line became fouled in the wreckage. The dinghy crew could see that the men were in extreme peril and moved towards the yacht. They picked up the breeches-buoy lines and hauled on them to get closer. Aboard the yacht one man could be seen making his way forward and, with the sea breaking over and into the dinghy, an attempt was made to help the man into the bows of the inflatable. He was seen to be trapped in the wreckage and too weak to move. Lifeboatman William Halsall tried to pull him free, but a heavy sea lifted the inflatable away from the yacht and both men were swept into the water. The slack ropes of the breeches buoy tangled around William Halsall and as he fought to free himself the yachtsman slipped from his grasp and disappeared.

The Y Class goes into Melfort, W Halsall in bow grabs first yachtsman

- copyright photgraph Rick Tomlinson

The inflatable's helmsman, Eric Quillin, had been half knocked out of his boat and now saw his crewman in trouble. He managed to drag him aboard, but the inflatable was now two-thirds full of water and hard to steer. Another wave hit her and she capsized, throwing both lifeboatmen into the water. Their boat was blown away from them and the men were swallowing seawater as the waves broke over their heads. As their crewmates on the breakwater watched helplessly, the men were miraculously swept towards them and pulled out of the sea on to the breakwater. Then Coxswain Norman Quillin spotted a man hanging on to a lifebuoy being swept down the same way. He quickly grabbed a boathook and jumped on to the breakwater just as the man in the water was smashed against it, injuring his head. Norman Quillin hooked the man's jacket and hauled high high enough for the other lifeboatmen to pull him in.

A yachtsman is recovered - copyright photgraph Rick Tomlinson

The remaining yachtsman was now in dire straits. His boat was breaking up under his feet and re scue from the shore or by inflatable was impossible. The lifeboatmen urged him to jump into the sea and be swept down to the breakwater but, perhaps not surprisingly, he declined. As the tide was flooding there was now, more water around the wreck, so Coxswain Quillin decided to take the Gough Ritchie in amongst the rocks. As he gingerly worked his way towards the yacht the lifeboat was banging on the rocks, but lifeboatman Derrick McCutcheon hurled a rope across, which the yachtsman tied around his shoulders. Slowly the lifeboat drove astern, out of danger, and pulled the man from the wreck got him alongside, then safely aboard where he was treated for hypothermia, shock and minor injuries. Tragically the man who had earlier slipped from William Halsall's grasp drowned, and was brought in by helicopter.

The Gough Ritchie returned to the shelter of the breakwater and was made fast when it was confirmed that one man was still missing. Shortly afterwards a Wessex helicopter from 22 Squadron, R.A.F. Valley, arrived overhead and started to search the area. just after 11 o'clock it recovered a body from the sea. It was landed on the breakwater and taken aboard the lifeboat which then made for Castletown where the two survivors and the body were landed into the care of the police and a doctor.

The heroic and gallant efforts of the lifeboat crew did not go without recognition from the Headquarters of the R.N.L.I. Coxswain Norman Quillin, Eric Quillin and Willie Halsall were awarded the thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum together with Service of Merit badges. In adddition, Vellum service certificates were accorded to Second Coxswain John Williams, Assistant Mechanic Derek McCutcheon and crew members Derek Cregeen and his son Stephen. The awards, most appropriately were made on behalf of the RNLI, by Mrs Ann Ritchie, donor of the lifeboat and life-governor of the RNLI.


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Last edited: 07 August 2000