The coxswain of Lochinver lifeboat and his volunteer crew are to receive recognition for their daring rescue of the crew of Lerwick registered fish carrier Norholm.
Four fishermen had to be rescued from the Norholm when their vessel lost engine power in a strong westerly gale and was drifting towards rocks off Cape Wrath.
Now coxswain David MacAskill, 47, is to be awarded the RNLI Bronze Medal for Gallantry – one of the charity’s highest accolades – for his courage and determination in extremely difficult conditions.
His six crew members, including his nephew and son, will also be recognised for their part in the rescue.
The incident occurred on 7th December 2014 when the Lochinver crew launched their all-weather lifeboat Julian and Margaret Leonard into rough seas in order to rescue the crew of the stricken trawler.
Gale force winds were pushing the Norholm towards the dangerous and rocky shore of Cape Wrath despite the vessel having put out anchors.
The lifeboat braved 10 metre waves, thunder, lightning and hail to reach the four people on board the disabled vessel. When they arrived on the scene the fish carrier was just one mile from the rocks.
At this point coxswain MacAskill circled the fishing boat to assess the situation. Mr MacAskill knew the size of the vessel would present a challenge in being able to hold her in position or tow her away from the shore.
If the tow failed, the fishing boat crew would be unlikely to re-set the anchors before the boat would be wrecked on the rocky shoreline.
Because of these difficulties Mr MacAskill requested support from the rescue helicopter from Stornoway so that, should the tow fail, the helicopter could winch the Norholm’s crew to safety. With the helicopter on its way, the coxswain attempted to pass a tow line to the stricken boat.
But the weather had worsened and the pitching of both vessels in the heavy seas made passing the tow line very difficult, with the strong winds whipping the line away when it was thrown between the two.
Mr MacAskill decided to try an alternative – he asked the boat’s crew to float a line from the stern of the Norholm where the lifeboat crew could pick it up.
Mr MacAskill then manoeuvred the lifeboat to take up the weight of the fishing boat and the fishing boat skipper lifted the anchors. Cautiously, the lifeboat began to drag the fishing boat slowly away from the shore.
The size of the swell was such that, despite being in the upper steering position on the lifeboat, Mr MacAskill regularly lost sight of the fishing boat behind the waves.
Just after midnight, the lifeboat and the Norholm were two nautical miles clear of Cape Wrath and the rescue helicopter returned to shore. At 1.45am Thurso lifeboat was asked to launch to relieve the Lochinver volunteers.
Meanwhile, Lochinver lifeboat had rounded Cape Wrath and had gained some shelter from the land. But suddenly the tow line parted with a bang and the tired crew had to work hard to re-establish it.
Just as the Thurso lifeboat could be seen approaching the tow line parted again and coxswain MacAskill decided to wait for its arrival before resetting the tow from the Thurso lifeboat.
Once this was done, Lochinver lifeboat then headed back into the rougher water on its way back to the lifeboat station, arriving at 7.15am on 8 December after nearly 12 hours at sea.
After the rescue the Norholm made a substantial donation to the RNLI and praised the Lochinver lifeboat crew for their bravery and quick response in saving their lives.
Coxswain MacAskill has been on the Lochinver crew for 26 years during which time he has received several letters of commendation from the charity.
He said: “This was the most difficult shout we have had due to the size of the boat, the weather conditions and where the boat was positioned. The ship had two anchors out but they were not holding her and there was real danger she could run aground.
“Afterwards all the volunteers on the Lochinver crew were absolutely exhausted. I never expected to receive a medal, I didn’t join the RNLI to go for medals, but what this medal means is that it is an honour for the station and the crew as a whole to receive something like this.”
This is the first time in Lochinver’s nearly 50-year history that the station has received such an award for saving lives at sea. It is the seventh Bronze Medal to be awarded in Scotland in the last 16 years.
George Rawlinson, RNLI Operations Director, said: “The bravery and determination of coxswain MacAskill and his crew saved the captain and crew of the Norholm. I’d like to thank them all for their commitment and dedication to saving lives at sea and congratulate them on their well-deserved awards.”
• A video of the rescue can be viewed on the RNLI website.