A rower who was part of a crew rescued by the RNLI off the coast of Cushendall after getting into difficulty has described her terrifying ordeal and the dramatic mission to get them to safety.
at Bruce, a scientist from Oxfordshire, was one of six teammates attempting to circumnavigate Britain in the GB Row Challenge when worsening weather conditions forced them to raise the alarm on Saturday.
The Red Bay RNLI lifeboat was deployed at 5pm to assist in the “hugely challenging conditions”, but gale-force winds and rough seas hampered the operation.
A passing tanker acted as a buffer against the strong winds to facilitate the crew’s safe transfer from their small rowing boat, named Endurance.
Kat, whose role as part of Team Albatross includes collecting data about the environment, had never experienced a storm at sea before, so she was full of praise for her teammates for staying calm.
She also thanked the “amazing” RNLI lifeboat team for getting them to shore by 11pm and the Cushendall community for their kindness and hospitality.
“The GB Row Challenge is really difficult because of tides, strong winds and rowing two hours on and two off, 24 hours a day, but it had been going incredibly well,” said Kat.
“A big weather system came down the Irish Sea about a week ago, and we took refuge for a few days to wait it out.
“When we came round into the Irish Sea, a weather system of southerly winds had built up.
“Unfortunately, we ended up in a tricky position at the top of the Irish Sea as it narrows.
“Southerly winds were pushing us northwards and there was too much land around us, so there was a big chance of us being blown onto land.”
As the day went on and the winds became stronger, the team put lines out the back of the boat to slow the vessel down and to prevent them from pushing northwards.
With the high winds expected to last several days, the fear was that the boat could be forced onto rocks at the Mull of Kintyre.
Concerned by the weather, the team took the precautionary decision of calling for help before nightfall in case they ended up in an emergency.
Kat, who has been rowing since 2005 but only started rowing in the ocean last December, said it was “terrifying” initially, but she knew she was with experienced teammates.
“It was really scary — terrifying, really — being in a small boat in very big seas. It was my first experience of a storm while at sea,” she added.
“But my teammates are all ocean sailors or have done ocean rowing, and they kept telling me it was more scary than dangerous, that we were safe and the boat wasn’t going to turn over.
“I was frightened for the first few hours by these great big waves breaking over us, but by the end of the day, I was like, ‘Okay, here comes another big wave’.”
After they raised the alarm, the RNLI lifeboat and the Coastguard helicopter from Prestwick were sent to the scene.
The helicopter was unable to get near the vessel, and the lifeboat crew faced difficulties in attempting to transfer the rowers to their boat in gale-force winds and rough seas.
A tanker in the vicinity was called upon to help, providing a windshield to allow Team Albatross to board the lifeboat.
All six members of the crew escaped unharmed and arrived back on dry land at Cushendall at 11pm. “I couldn’t praise the Red Bay RNLI Lifeboat crew enough. They were amazing,” said Kat.
“When we arrived in Cushendall, we had nowhere to sleep and only the clothes we’d been wearing for two weeks, but the community looked after us so well, giving us accommodation, clothes and a huge amount of fish and chips.
“We could never have imagined the hospitality we’ve received.”
Kat and her team departed on the challenge from London’s Tower Bridge in June 12.
She said while they planned to continue with the expedition, weather permitting, after recovering their boat, winning the race was no longer their focus.
“What happened hasn’t put us off. We’ve had a chance to sit down and reflect, and we want to carry on with our environmental data collection,” Kat added.
“It doesn’t matter now how long it takes to complete the expedition. Our main concern is to get around safely.
“I’m very proud of our team and the decisions we made. We didn’t really know each other before embarking on this expedition, but I think what happened has helped bring us closer.”