Launch Stories

Last year RNLI lifeboats rescued almost 8,000 people, an average of 21 people per day.

14th March 2012 - Diver Rescued near the Sandiette Bank

The Donald Mclauchlan was requested to launch by Dover Coastguard at approximately 15.53 on Wednesday, 14th March 2012.  As the crew formed at Walmer boathouse information started to arrive and the details as we knew them at that time were remarkable.  A large merchant vessel in the NW shipping lane had spotted someone in the water with what they thought was a canoe, the location was near the SW Sandettie buoy.  The Walmer lifeboat crew know the locations of the buoys and navigation aids around the Goodwin sands very well and know instinctively in which direction to head immediately on launching.  This one was a bit different, with the incident unfolding a further 7 miles beyond the Goodwin Sands.  Time was of critical importance as we had no idea as to the status of the individual, and as it transpired the vessel that had initially spotted him was too large to heave to or offer any meaningful assistance.  Visibility was limited to approximately a mile and so the swimmer was soon out of sight again.  As we headed for the Kellet Gut, the larger of the channels that cut through the Goodwin Sands we could hear Dover Lifeboat and Rescue 125 report into Dover Coastguard, each receiving instructions and as we had, providing estimated time of arrival on scene.  Our calculations suggested that at 35 knots, Walmer lifeboat would be first on scene.  The state of the tide prevented us taking a more direct route over the sands and wreckage from incidents many years before still litter the outer edge of the Sands as the Goodwins are known locally.  This meant that Walmer lifeboat had to head further NE to exit the Sands safely and then head on bearing 145° once past the East Goodwin Buoy.  The sea conditions were excellent and light breezes meant that 35 knots could be maintained for much of the journey with only the occasional adjustment for localized choppy conditions in the vicinity of the sands.  On one occasion the pace meant that instructions could not be written down on the lifeboat and I got a smack on the shoulder to slow down so that something legible could be written, or punched into the plotter.

As we passed through the first shipping lane we spotted a life ring, we recovered it, but knew that it was not in the correct place and so pressed on.  On the radio we could here that the MV Edenborg was in visual contact with the casualty and that a dive boat had transmitted a mayday further to the west, their diver was overdue. As the SW Sandettie Buoy came into sight we could see a large vessel off the bow, the name on the side was company name Wagenborg, it ended in Borg, which helped our confidence rating, had we found the right ship?  Some difficult communications later confirmed the fact that it was the correct vessel and that the diver was on their port bow.  It was apparent that the vessel was running very slowly ahead so I took the decision to pass the stern and as we sped up an orange salvage bag could be seen upright drifting astern, but beyond the 137 meter freighter and then someone in the water to port separated by some 30 meters.  The diver could see us now, and he shone a very bright light towards us repeatedly to make sure we would see him.

Once along side it was apparent that the diver was fine and that there was no need to be concerned with decompression stops.  We recovered dive equipment and then headed for the dive boat and Dover Lifeboat, both had met up to the west some two miles or more distant. Rescue 125 having been stood down as the Edenborg and the Walmer lifeboat closed in the last mile or so.  The Edenborg was released to continue on its journey, having played a significant role by relocating the diver and preventing the need for a protracted search in poor visibility and failing light by Walmer and Dover lifeboats.

The service concluded approximately 15 miles from both Walmer to the east and Calais to the north, in close proximity to the Sandettie light vessel, a well-known feature on the shipping forecast, although the Walmer crew did not actually see the famous lightship due to the poor visibility.

Walmer lifeboat returned to station after approximately 2 hours a float having completed a really satisfying service, with the best possible outcome, in relatively unfamiliar waters, and a considerable distance offshore.

Article by Dave Mitchell, website administrator.



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