Man Overboard – Pass the gel coat please

mutton isl

I was really looking forward to a weekend of diving in Quilty. The weather leading up the weekend was poor with reports of a strong swell on Thursday. Early feedback on availability of divers for diving over weekend was suggesting Saturday –Monday. In saying that, Club Diving was arranged for Monday.

However, I managed to dive with Burren SAC on Sunday and benefitted from some great dives on Brandon reef and Seal cave.

Quilty offers some amazing diving, the reef walls are amazing, the life is stunning, it’s reefs are typically littered with crab, lobster and congers. The amount of Wrasse, that I came across that appear to be sleeping in the nooks. I still find myself, anxious to dive there every time I drop into a dive in the vicinity of Brandon Reef, Seal Rock, Seal Cave, and Lime Rock. Many dive options are, as yet to be discovered.

Quilty offers challenges, and much to my dismay, more than I bargained for…..  The challenge of Quilty is the shallow slip where tides play havoc. It dries out quickly.   It is recommended that boat is launched on high springs, so need to be careful with timing. The outer slip is cover in weed, making it very dangerous when loading/unloading boat. All leading to a little more effort to run dive operations and a little more physical effort from all concerned. Indeed, Monday required the boat to be on site at 9am.  With 14 persons expected to dive, it was going to be a demanding day.

3 dive outings were conducted on Branding Reef –Seal Rock and Seal Cave. Indeed, the slagging re the need to lift and lower bottles to the boat between dives 2&3. It was indeed fortunate to escape with the boat out of quilty and the comments about the gel coat raised its head once again.

As we exited, the conditions started to deteriorate, visibility dropped, wind picked up dramatically, knowing that it would, but, not to the degree that it did…. But, diving lee side of Seal Rock, through the gully was the last request of the day.

It was decided earlier to recover boat in Doonbeg, easier on towing vehicle and future dive ops would be out of Kilkee.

It’s out a habit that the boat is recovered in Doonbeg when tides are low in Quilty. In previous years, a lot of negativity has been attributed to trying to recover the club boat off the beach. Conditions and visibility were poor and frankly not good but, manageable.

Little did I know, what was ahead of me…. I went out and was checking some areas around lime rock, but popped back to Quilty to get a finbag just in case I needed it for Doonbeg to learn everyone had left. Going back out, I noted,   It’s was very rough as I neared Brandon Rock, in fact, throttling up and down as the waves climbed and dropped away under the boat.

I rounded the West side of Mutton only to start heading for Doonbeg, as visibility dropped, I took a moment to clean my glasses, only to drop them, instinctively bending over to the side to pick them up, I was suddenly thrown over the tubes and into the water.

Shock, my glasses gone, I’m in the water, the boat stops about 10 yards away. Relief, Deadman’s did the trick, I start to swim. Aaagh, I’m not getting anywhere, the wind is pushing the boat away. I need fins, It’s rough, what do I do now, I have to give up chasing the boat, I am expending too much energy. I emit a flurry of curses, I set my lifejacket off, cursing, even more buoyant now, I wrestle with it as I deal with the bags at either side of my head. I close off the valve on my drysuit. Now, what do I do? I was a cork floating on the water, not able to do a thing, helpless to the mercy of the sea and winds and boat gone. I lost sight of it, blinded by waves, wind and no glasses.

All I could do was lie there and pray the “folks awaiting my return at Doonbeg” would make that “call” when I would not show up. Indeed, as I came to terms with the situation, I calmed down and started to consider my options. I spent ages “ admiring” the tower on the south side of Mutton. I was heading towards some rough water but, fortunately, I managed to paddle and pull myself such that I was carried more easterly. I began to look at my watch, Time passed away and I was getting closer to a pinnacle formation east of the tower. Both my legs cramped from paddling, but really getting nowhere. Then the Helicopter came from East side of Mutton, crossing to south and West side.. Hurray, rescue!!!, but alas no, they did not see me, but now I knew, only a matter of time.  I said thanks to the guys at Doonbeg for making that call. I have a better chance of rescue now.

Curses and yet again that pinnacle formation, a possible exit both tempted and caused me concern, would I get bashed about, but, yet again my efforts to get near it failed. The helicopter was around again, I realized, I had my torch, I shone it at the helicopter, it still did not see me, I was to try to attract it’s attention a few more times. I was insulated in my suit, I was not in a boat, and as it turned out, the boat was hidden away from viewing eyes.

It was close to high tide now, the pinnacle loomed closer, I said to myself, I’ve got a better chance of getting help if I can get out, it was slack enough to risk climbing onto the rock. I paddled, I pulled my myself through the water, I, finally got within reach of the pinnacle, I turned to face it, I let the wave catch me and push me onto it. I got a grip hold with my left hand and planted my knees, the wave abated, I stayed holding on. Yes, relief, I waited for the next wave, I was lifted up further, the wave abated, I stayed on and I clambered up further, I was safe, out of the water. I sat down, my legs like jelly and got my breath back. Safety  at long last. I got my life jacket off, Opened my drysuit, got rid of some fluids and cooled down…Refreshed, I sealed myself up and walked about to see what to do next. My chances of rescue increased a 100 fold now. I could hear the Coast guard off to the west side of Mutton searching…  Then I spotted a boat coming around Mutton in my direction, I picked up my lifejacket, waved it, and shone my torch in their direction. Rescue at last!!

So I informed them, that I was ok. Did they recover the Club boat?  No…. Perplexed, they did not know. I was confused, where was it? Attention was focus on my rescue, I was winched off and then requested that my club mates be informed of my rescue. I was medically assessed, however, I was fine, tired, but relieved to be back in contact with the world once again. I relayed that I was toppled from the boat and advised that I believe that craft must surely be in some cove on the south side of Mutton.

As I landed in Shannon, I learned that a passing fisherman had spotted the boat in a cave, it’s Nav light attracted attention. Alas, the craft is damaged, the prop and skeg bore the brunt of the damage as well as the hull shoe, it suffered the ravages of the cave.

I made a call to Emma as soon as I landed, all was ok and I re assured the Helicopter crew that I was fine and transfer to hospital was not required. I had tea and sat down for the debrief and awaited collection from the rescue centre. Once meeting Mike and Emma, the barrage of calls and chat began, while all who had been waiting at Quaysides returned home at long last. Rescue complete.

I can only say thanks and incalculable gratitude to all those who were involved, worried and stressed by this emergency situation. I owe so much to the “Daves”, Mike, Richard, Emma, Noel, Martin, Doolin Coast guard, Kilkee Rescue and the Shannon based helicopter crew for my speedy rescue.

Thought’s of what if’s,  plague me afterwards for a while, I note learning about a lot of negativity re my situation, something that really did not concern me while buoyant off Mutton. I was warm in my drysuit, overly buoyant with the aid of the lifejacket and with a torch, all good to increase my chances of survival.

Lessons learned will forge changes club policy going forward, in the meantime, the boat is now undergoing repairs. Hopefully, we can get back up and running quickly. In the meantime, I look forward to my next dive.


Please note Boat was not capsized despite some amazing Media articles.

I took some time quite recently to convey some lessons learned to a leading diver candidate. Especially, to consider some “what if”  risks if been alone on a boat in rough seas. 

Discussion on Never travel Alone

Wearing a Fin bag on Coxswain back if alone

Investigate a harness for Coxswain

Purchase the “Foldable fins”

Funny options.. Wipers for glasses, Get a neck cord for my specs, Get laser treatment now. 

The list of options and the slagging will no doubt go on..  All deserved 🙂