THE coxswain of the Lochinver lifeboat, David MacAskill, and his volunteer crew have been recognised for their part in saving the lives of the four crew members of a Shetland-based wellboat.
The Norholm was in danger of being swept onto rocks after losing engine power in gale force winds, off Cape Wrath, on the evening of 7 December 2014.
The 47-year old coxswain said the call to assist the Norholm was one of the most challenging in his 26-year long service for the RNLI.
“This was the most difficult shout we have had due to the size of the boat, the weather conditions and where the boat was positioned,” he said.
“The ship had two anchors out but they were not holding her and there was real danger she could run aground.”
Having been called out, the Lochinver lifeboat faced rough seas and worsening weather conditions the reach the Norholm.
The crew of the 32-metre fish carrier had put out anchors to slow her drift towards the shore.
But in force 7-8 south westerly winds, the anchors were dragging and – although the boat was drifting at a slower rate – it was getting closer to the rocks of Cape Wrath.
When the lifeboat arrived on scene at 10.24pm the weather had deteriorated and, with the fishing boat now only a mile from shore, the crew faced 10-metre swells and heavy rain.
MacAskill greatest concern was the size of the vessel. Laden as she was, he knew it would be a challenge to hold her in position or tow her away from the shore.
He requested support from the Stornoway rescue helicopter so that, should the tow fail, the helicopter could winch the Norholm’s crew to safety.
With the helicopter on its way, Coxswain MacAskill attempted to pass a tow line to the stricken boat.
But the weather had worsened yet again. The pitching of both vessels in the heavy seas made passing the tow line very difficult and the strong winds whipped the line away when it was thrown between the two.
Using his experience and knowledge, MacAskill decided to try an alternative – he asked the boat’s crew to float a line from the stern of the Norholm where the lifeboat crew could pick it up.
Coxswain MacAskill then manoeuvred the lifeboat to take up the weight of the Norholm and her skipper lifted the anchors. Cautiously, the lifeboat began to drag the fishing boat slowly away from the shore.
The size of the swell was such that, despite being in the upper steering position on the lifeboat, MacAskill regularly lost sight of the Norholm behind the waves.
Just after midnight, the lifeboat and the Norholm were two nautical miles clear of Cape Wrath and the rescue helicopter returned to shore.
At 1.45am Thurso lifeboat was asked to launch to relieve the Lochinver volunteers.
Meanwhile, Lochinver lifeboat had rounded Cape Wrath and had gained some shelter from the land. But suddenly the tow line parted with a bang and the tired crew had to work hard to re-establish it.
Just as the Thurso lifeboat could be seen approaching the tow line parted again and the coxswain decided to wait for its arrival before resetting the tow from the Thurso lifeboat.
The lifeboat institution has now announced that the coxswain will be awarded the RNLI bronze medal for gallantry – one of the charity’s highest accolades.
It is only the seventh bronze medal ever to be awarded in Scotland by the RNLI.
His six crew members, including MacAskill’s nephew and son, will also be recognised for their part in the rescue.
Video footage courtesy of the RNLI.
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