NI coastguard saves three yachts sailing during Storm Ali

The Northern Ireland coastguard had to rescue three yachts that got into difficulty during Storm Ali on Wednesday.

The volunteer crew members were alerted at 11.40am on Wednesday to go the aid of a stricken yacht at Newtownards Sailing Club on Strangford Lough.

The Northern Ireland coastguard came to the rescue of three yachts during Storm Ali.

The Northern Ireland coastguard came to the rescue of three yachts during Storm Ali.

The all-weather lifeboat under Coxswain William Chambers, launched within minutes into the middle of Storm Ali.

As the lifeboat launched, it quickly became apparent the challenging weather conditions the crew were going to face on their passage to Newtownards.

Shortly after launching the Coxswain requested the main water tight doors to be closed and all crew to be seated as they now faced eight metre waves hitting from the side.

There was a force eight gale blowing as the crew approached Strangford Lough. Some 90 minutes later the seas started to settle as the lifeboat was sheltered by the shore.

On arrival at Newtownards Yacht Club at 2.15pm, the Coastguard was concerned that there may be a person on board the weather beaten vessel, but when the lifeboat crew came alongside it was confirmed that nobody had been on the boat and she was safely on the mooring.

The lifeboat was then requested to go the aid of another yacht drifting across the lough from White Rock and Kircubbin but unfortunately by the time the lifeboat reached the vessel there was nothing the crew could do as it was on the rocks on an ebbing tide.

As the lifeboat made her return journey to the station, and was approaching Portaferry, the crew were alerted to another yacht in difficulty. The crew established a tow line and managed to free the vessel and towed it to the safety off a mooring in Strangford marina.

On leaving the sheltered waters of Strangford Lough the lifeboat and its crew once again faced mountainous seas and the Coxswain decided to stop in Ardglass marina for an hour to let the wind decrease and the wave size drop.

Leaving Ardglass marina around 6:00pm the crew faced large but bearable seas making it back to Newcastle, Co. Down for 7:00pm.

Speaking after spending over seven hours at sea, Newcastle RNLI Coxswain William Chambers said: "This was a challenging day for our volunteers given that we launched into rough seas when Storm Ali was at its worst.

"It was also uncertain at that point if there was a life at risk on-board the yacht, thankfully there wasn’t in this case. It was a long and challenging day but our volunteers are highly skilled and trained for these situations and were delighted to be able to help."