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Dornoch lifeboat crew battle high seas and poor communications to go to aid of stricken fishing boat

By Caroline McMorran

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A rescue operation was launched after a fishing vessel broke down in a Sutherland bay yesterday evening.

Members of Dornoch based independent lifeboat group East Sutherland Rescue Association (ESRA) braved a rough sea and other difficulties, including darkness and poor communications, to go to the aid of the stricken boat, which had anchored close inshore at Loth Bay.

ESRA on a previous call-out.
ESRA on a previous call-out.

Group spokesman Antony Hope said that ESRA had been tasked at 6.39pm by Aberdeen Coastguard and had launched its boat Glen Cassley in a moderately calm sea just 17 minutes later.

On board were a four-strong crew – Gareth Dixon, Neil Ackroyd, Hugh Fullerton Smith and Neil Dalton.

It took the team just under an hour to reach Loth Bay in rising winds and with an increasingly turbulent sea - waves were breaking at around 1.5 metres.

Mr Hope said: “Control of the incident was handed over to Shetland Coastguard and communications were difficult with poor transmitting and receiving conditions.”

Standing by at Glen Loth were the RNLI Wick lifeboat and a second, larger, Helmsdale based fishing vessel. But neither were able to approach the boat because of the bay’s shallow water and rocky reef.

Rescuers decided the smaller Glen Cassley would tow the boat out of the bay and into deeper water. The tow would then be taken over by Wick lifeboat.

With darkness encroaching, the Glen Cassley’s searchlight had to be utilised.

Mr Hope said: “Amid a confused sea with breaking waves, considerable spray reducing visibility and appalling communications difficulty, the tow was successfully carried out."

The fishing vessel was taken to Helmsdale harbour by the Wick lifeboat.

Mr Hope continued: “The Dornoch lifeboat returned to base at 10.20pm. The incident was fairly straightforward for ESRA, due to recent crew training in towing and despite two crew members having never experienced a live tow, particularly at night and in testing conditions.

“On return it was gratifying to find almost a full shore crew turn-out to recover the boat and wash down, refuel and service it.

“It was an excellent performance from both boat and shore crews.”

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