When knowledgeable mariner Paul Harrison and his son Sean left North Shields on 31 July 2012 in ideal conditions aboard the 16m former lifeboat Princess, they had no idea this would be ‘the old rescuer’s’ last journey.
By midnight the wind had increased to 25 knots and large swells outran the boat. The steering gear failed and the Princess was thrown onto rocks at Crail – her propellers out of the water and a gash in her bow. Below deck, water seeped in and the cooker and fridge were hurled around.
After sending a mayday, the pair huddled together in the cabin and waited.
John Clark, Anstruther Lifeboat Operations Manager, woke to a Coastguard call at 12.50am and paged the crew. Volunteers rushed from their beds and, arriving in his pyjamas, Helmsman Barry Gourlay launched the D class lifeboat within 7 minutes with Crew Members Euan Hoggan and Becci Jewell, and their Mersey class lifeboat and crew followed.
Although time was short, the treacherous conditions prevented Barry from using the vessel’s full capacity of 25 knots and just after a mile the D class propeller became tangled in a fishing line. They were in danger of capsizing but Barry quickly managed to free the propeller blades.
Paul and Sean feared for their lives as the floor of the Princess pushed up beneath them – they decided to abandon ship. They edged along the outside rail, struggling to hold on against 3.5m breakers.
Thankfully, at the moment they were about to jump together, the D class lifeboat arrived.
Barry knew the only way to get close enough to rescue the pair was to ride a wave towards the vessel. A large wave rolled up. He took a deep breath, rode the back of the wave and spun the lifeboat round so that Paul and Sean could step aboard.
Shivering, shocked and exhausted, the father and son crouched in the lifeboat. It took three agonising minutes for the inshore lifeboat to punch through the surf and reach the Anstruther Mersey class lifeboat so that the pair could be lifted aboard by the all-weather lifeboat crew. By 1.20am, Sean and Paul were safe in the wheelhouse.
‘On that night, the Helmsman went above and beyond the call of duty,’ says Paul. ‘They all did.’
Becci and Euan receive the Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum for their bravery, determination and teamwork.
In recognition of his seamanship and bravery, Helmsman Barry Gourlay receives the RNLI Bronze Medal for Gallantry.