A salutary warning from Colm Plunkett for all shore anglers to wear a life jacket.
I was fishing at the end of the Beara peninsula, in west Cork, last Sunday when a rogue wave washed me into the sea. I spent the next 55 minutes fighting for my life. Fortunately I was with my 16 year old daughter, Orlaith, who immediately called the coastguard. Upon entering the water my life jacket automatically inflated and kept me on the surface of the sea. For the first 15 to 20 minutes I was swept by the current out to sea.
The sea appeared fairly calm from the shore but once in it the 3' to 4' swells, some with little white crests, showed its darker side. Even though I kept my back to the wind I spent 30 minutes or so fighting to get air into my lungs whilst spitting the sea water out of my mouth; as the waves broke over my head and the water ran down my face. Much to my relief the current then pushed me back towards the land and to the calm waters of Dursey sound. Although I was in calm water the current and my state of exhaustion and oncoming hypothermia preventing me from reaching the shore. My daughter, the hero of the day, shouted to me that the coastguard was on the way and for the first time my spirits rose.
I noticed the buoy of a lobster pot ahead of me and managed to move my position in the current and drift into it. And then I hung on for dear life as I did not want the experience of the open water beyond it with its innocent looking waves. After 10 or so minutes the inshore rescue boat from Derrynane, Co. Kerry, my other heroes, sped into the sound and pulled me aboard. The men from Kerry just beat the Life boat from Castletownbere and the helicopter from Shannon. I was brought to shore with a life threatening low temperature and handed over to the land based unit of the coastguard and the ambulance team, EMTs and paramedic, of the HSE; from there I was brought by helicopter to Cork University Hospital for further assessments and treatment.
My main message is: I wasn't lucky, I was prepared but not nearly as much as I needed to be. A splash hood on my life jacket would have saved me from an experience somewhat akin to water boarding; a personal locator beacon (PLB) would have brought the coastguard directly to me should I have continued out to sea, and initiated a distress call should I have been fishing on my own, which I often do.
The life jacket saved my life; the prearranged plan with my daughter, should one of us fall in, saved my life; the mobile phone saved my life; the emergency services saved my life. And if through telling others of my harrowing experience, on a 'calm' sea, I can get other fishermen to wear a life jacket then it is an experience worth having but definitely not worth repeating!
As a postscript the Irish Coastguard told me that I am the first angler they have pulled out alive, after having gone in off the rocks, and the only one wearing a life jacket. If you fall in to the sea without a life jacket then you are as good as dead.