Friday 23 February 2018

'It was a never-ending cycle of telling people not to risk lives'

John Draper - Valentia Coast Guard

John Draper is divisional controller of Valentia Coast Guard
John Draper is divisional controller of Valentia Coast Guard
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

"Ophelia was on everybody's mind in the lead up to yesterday.

"On a personal level, this meant ensuring all items on the home front were secured for family and home, before making my way to Valentia early yesterday morning.

"At 8am I checked the Coast Guard AIS vessel tracking system to see who was still out at sea, hoping the four Spanish vessels on the west of the Blaskets the previous evening had come to their senses.

"No such luck. They were still west of the islands, dodging the weather. Your hope is they stay afloat and do not require us to launch a lifeboat or a helicopter.

"We also had a gentleman decide he would make his way out to his yacht, in a dinghy, in order to check. Then came the realisation he would not make it back safely. It was best the man stay put on his vessel, as the conditions were too severe to launch the local Rescue Rib.

"It seemed to be a never-ending cycle of reminding members of the public that risking their own lives is also risking the lives of our rescue personnel.

"There were 13 watch officers based at Valentia, with three on duty by day and two by night. Humour - sometimes of the darker type - is an important tool that enables us all to work together for long periods of time. They have the craic, but are extremely serious about the responsibilities they have on a day-to-day basis.

"Reports on the Kinsale gas rig registered a 26-metre maximum sea surge, with wind speeds at up to 81 knots. Roche's Point lighthouse registered an 84 knot gust - well into hurricane-force wind strength.

"Yachts on their moorings in Cork harbour were being thrashed. The owners rang us to see if we could help.

"Since there was no risk to life, the polite response was we cannot risk our own crews. At 12.11pm, it became calm all of a sudden. The wind was gone and the sea off the station had gone calm.

"It was the eye of the storm."

John Draper is divisional controller of Valentia Coast Guard

Irish Independent

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