At 21:30 BST on Wednesday evening Port St Mary Lifeboat was launched to locate and assist the 52 foot long fishing vessel which was unsure of its position to the south east of the Isle of Man. 3 people were on board however 2 were suffering sea sickness. The weather was fresh SE force 5 to 6 with rain and poor visability (as low as 1 mile).
The vessel reported that its navigation equipment (a GPS) had failed, there was no plotted course and that their steering geer had become jammed to starboard. They were on a passage from Liverpool to Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. They had left the mouth of the river Mersey at midday steering a course of 030 degrees.
Liverpool Coastguard were able to get a radio direction finder bearing of 157 degree from their mast at Snaefell, I.o.M but the distance the vessel was to the south east of the Island could not be determined but was estimated by the Coastguards to be some 25 miles off shore.
Port St Mary Lifeboat was asked to proceed ESE and establish a second VHF radio direction finder (VHF DF) bearing to the vessel. In addtion a Seaking helicopter, Rescue 122, from RAF Valley, Anglsey was also tasked. Rescue 122 had been conducting night time exercises and had less than its normal operational endurance.
At 21:45 Rescue122 whilst approx. 20 miles south of the Isle of Man makes contact with the Maggie Ellen, establishes a VHF DF fix on the vessel and estimates to be at the vessel in 15 minutes.
At 22:00 in reponse to the Coastguards 'Pan Pan' radio broadcast , the Royal Navy fisheries protection vessel HMS "Lindisfarne" offers assistance but estimates its time of arrival at the Maggie Ellen as being 00:30 (in 2.5 hours). Port St Mary Lifeboat estimates its ETA has 23:20.
With the Maggie Ellen position established as being at 54 deg 59.4 min North, 004 deg 33.45 min West , it is approx. 25 miles for the lifeboats from Barrow in Furness or Douglas, IoM or Moelfre, Anglsey and 32 miles from Port St Mary [however PSM lifeboat would still be quickest to the scene as the other lifeboat are only capable of 18 knots].
At 22:08 Rescue 122 (R122) reaches the scene and hovers over the Maggie Ellen. At about this time Moelfre Lifeboat is also called out to assist Port St Mary Lifeboat in the event that the casualties steering cannot not be fixed and towing requires two vessel (one astern of the towed vessel to act as a rudder and brake). The casualty appears to be going round in circles so the helicopter crew plot its course and find it is steering in a nor-easterly direction. Ten minutes later R122 reports that they have radar contact with a fast moving craft some 10 miles to the north west of their current position and that they are running low on fuel and will require releasing from duty before a lifeboat arrives.
At 22:20 contact is made between the fast ferry Superseacat 3 and Liverppol Coastguard. The 34 knot fast ferry had departed Douglas at 21:45 bound for Liverpool with 541 passengers and 25 crew on board. They agree to proceed at standby the Maggie Ellen until further help arrives.Superseacat 3 heaves to 0.5 mile from the casualty twelve minutes later. About this time the fisheries protection vessel HMS "Lindisfarne" was released from proceeding to the scene and it is agreed that the helicopter will be released at 23:00. R122 confirms that the Maggie Ellen seems unable to alter course and she is asked to slow down (in effect it was moving directly away from Moelfre lifeboat approaching from the south west and away from Port St Mary lifeboat approaching from the west nor west).
At 23:00 Seaking R122 leaves . Moelfre lifeboat passes an ETA of midnight. The Superseacat 3 stays some 2 to 5 cables from the Maggie Ellen. However, a moment of confusion was made when Superseacat reports that it is alongside a two masted yacht and not a fishing vessel as initially reported by the Coastguards. After some radio conversation between Coastguards and the Maggie Ellen it is confirmed she is a yacht and not a converted fishing boat. Superseacat reports the weather on sence as SE force 6, gusting to gale, with 1.5 to 2 metres of wave swell.
At 23:45 Port St Mary lifeboat arrives on scene and Moelfre lifeboat reports that they will be there by 00:20. At midnight Superseacat 3 is released to continue its passage to Liverpool. Two lifeboatmen from Port St Mary board the Maggie Ellen in two seperate attempts in order to check the ill crew , assess the steering gear and provide help to arrange the tow. The lifeboatmen are 2nd cox. Mick Kneale and crewmember George Platt.
By half past midnight a tow line had been established by Port St Mary lifeboat. It still was not known which was the best destination - Douglas was considered the best.Port St Mary was some 32 nautical miles distant. The lifeboatmen on board the Maggie Ellen found that some rope had dropped over the side and had foulled the rudder. They were able to free it and thus control of steering was regained. During this time the Moelfre lifeboat provided an escort.
At 00:56 it was decided that one lifeboat could manage the tow to the Isle of Man and thus Moelfre was released back to her station. The destination for the tow is revised to Port St Mary (since the Maggie Ellen was orginally intending to go around the south of the Island). At first the tow was slow and the ETA at Port St Mary given as 08:45 . However there was a spring high tide at 01:00 that morning once the ebb tide had started the towing speed had the benefit of a tidal set to the west at the rate of up to 1.8 knots per hour. Thus at 02:00 the ETA was revised downwards to 06:45. Between 1am and 6 am a tow of 6 knots was maintained and the weather improved some what dropping to a southerly wind of force 4, gusting to force 5.
The Lifeboat with Maggie Ellen in tow arrived off Port St Mary breakwater at a little after 06:30. The tow line was slipped and the yacht was manouvered alongside under its own power.
The PSM lifeboat with the ketch "Maggie Ellen" in tow arriving at 06:30
(copyright B Kelly)
Postscript- for their actions during the rescue of the crew of the Maggie Ellan the Cox'n Johnny Williams, 2nd Cox'n Mick Kneale and crewmember George Platt were each presented with framed Letters of Appreciation from the Director of the RNLI on the 2nd August 2000. For full details of this news item please see News August 2000
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Edited 05 August 2000