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Following an official announcement last week, a big pat on the back is given former Pirates player Patrick ‘Patch’ Harvey who, as the RNLI coxswain of the Penlee lifeboat ‘Ivan Ellen’ is to be awarded a Silver Medal for Gallantry and a Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum for his exemplary display of courage, leadership, and determination to save lives, along with his excellent boat-handling skills in extreme weather.
The awards relate to a dramatic rescue in hurricane conditions on the 31st October last year, where eight people were rescued from a disabled yacht off Porthleven.
Mechanic Marcel Le Bretton, Navigator James Roberts and crew members Will Tremeer, Adrian Thomas, Dan Sell and Trevelyan Worth (a keen supporter of the Pirates) will also be honoured when each are awarded Silver Medal Service Certificates for their courage, determination and teamwork under pressure and in extreme conditions.
And the crew of the HM Coastguard helicopter based at Newquay will also be presented with a Silver Medal Service Certificate by the RNLI for their outstanding lifesaving actions.
The rescue of the eight sailors took place on the evening of Halloween, when the Severn class all-weather lifeboat ‘Ivan Ellen‘ was launched at 8.30pm to go to the aid of the disabled 40-ft sailing vessel.
Patch immediately realised the severe predicament the yacht’s crew were in. They were being blown towards the shore, the beach to the south of Porthleven is known for its dumping waves and heavy undertow.
The storm conditions were extremely dangerous, with winds gusting to 87 knots, hurricane force, waves of six to seven metres, and poor visibility due to darkness and heavy, driving rain. Spray from the breaking waves was regularly covering the lifeboat.
On scene, Patch considered the conditions and yacht’s movement, and decided the best course of action was to transfer the casualties into a liferaft and then into the lifeboat. The skipper of the French yacht spoke little English but was able to confirm they didn’t have a big enough liferaft or enough lifejackets for all eight people onboard, and some were severely seasick.
With this information, Patch instructed his crew to prepare a towline, which despite the challenging conditions on the deck, they did very quickly. The heaving line was passed successfully, and the lifeboat began a slow tow away from the shore. Communicating with the casualty vessel via VHF radio, it transpired that the line had parted and the yacht was again adrift. The lifeboat crew worked hard to haul in the 200m heavy, wet towline on the aft deck. At this point the lifeboat was rolling heavily, solid waves were breaking regularly on the deck and wind spray was often completely engulfing the upper steering position, where Patch was controlling the lifeboat. The lifeboat crew on the aft deck were often up to their waists in moving water, and any of these waves had the potential to wash a crew member overboard.
It appeared from the parted heaving line that the crew member on the casualty vessel had not managed to haul the tow line onboard properly and had instead secured the weaker heaving line, so Patch decided a second, and last attempt would be prepared.
It was at this point one of the RNLI volunteer crew members became severely ill, and was unable to continue in his role, so the team were one-hand down.
For this critical manoeuvre and last-ditch attempt to secure a tow, Patch came in very close to the yacht’s starboard side so the towline could be passed across with minimal line going into the water. At this point the waves were becoming increasingly confused as the depth shallowed.
Patch used his exceptional boat handling skills to get the lifeboat in the correct position, and the line was successfully secured. The lifeboat began a slow tow to move the vessel further out to sea. Progress was slow, and the yacht was now taking on water through broken portholes, with the casualties up to their shins in water and some severely seasick.
Due to the severe risk of life, Patch made the decision to request helicopter evacuation and the lifeboat continued to tow the yacht slowly out to sea, until the helicopter was on scene around 25 minutes later, diverted from another emergency on the Isles of Scilly. It took one hour for the crew of the coastguard helicopter to winch the eight casualty crewmembers to safety in the extreme conditions.
During this time, volunteer crew provided casualty care checks on their own crewmember who’d become unwell, with Patch going into the wheelhouse to check his condition.
Finally with all casualties off the vessel, and wind conditions decreasing, Patch increased speed to get his crewmember back to shore for further medical assistance and recover the casualty vessel back into Newlyn Harbour. Penlee’s Atlantic 85 class inshore lifeboat was launched to assist with berthing the yacht safely and the all-weather lifeboat returned to her berth at 2.05am.
Once the casualty was secured alongside, three hi-lines were found tangled in the yacht’s rigging, which shows how difficult it was to successfully lower the winch-crew to the deck and is testament to the skill and tenacity of both the helicopter pilot and the winch-crew.
The surprise news was announced to Patch and the lifeboat crew on the 13th July, as they gathered at the station to celebrate Patch’s 30-year service to the RNLI. One of the crew, Dan Sell, is currently away, but dialled in via video call so he could hear the news at the same time. The four crew of the coastguard helicopter from Newquay were also present to hear the news.
Claire Hughes, Director of HM Coastguard, said: “We never take for granted the commitment shown by all those who respond in maritime emergencies. Our crews, coastguards and friends in the RNLI are on standby 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to answer distress calls. The courage shown by all who took part in this challenging rescue is a reminder of how much we owe to people like this. This award is very much deserved, and I am delighted that the work of the Newquay helicopter crew on that night, together with the RNLI is being honoured in this way.”
Dickon Berriman, RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager, said: “We are incredibly proud of Patch and his crew for their bravery and courage in this incredibly difficult rescue. The crew spent over five hours at sea in extreme weather conditions close to a dangerous lee shore, and it took very high levels of courage, determination, and teamwork to secure a successful outcome. Patch made difficult but sound decisions in a highly pressured environment to ensure the safety of the casualties and also his crew, and we’re delighted to see the efforts of he and his crew being recognised by the Institution.”
Volunteer Lifeboat Operations Manager at Penlee RNLI, David Pascoe (another former Pirate), added: “We are all extremely proud of our lifeboat crew for their incredibly brave actions that night. The RNLI does not give out awards for gallantry lightly and to receive these is a great privilege both for the individuals and the lifeboat station.”
The last RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry at Penlee was awarded in 1947 to Coxswain Edwin Madron, when he and his crew launched in a south-westerly gale and rough seas to rescue eight casualties from an obsolete battleship ‘Warspite’, which was being towed to a shipbreakers yard.
The RNLI Silver Medals for Gallantry and Silver Medal Service Certificates will be presented at a ceremony to held in 2024. Details of the arrangements will be released nearer the date.