Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

A firsthand account from a shore angler who was washed in off the west coast of Ireland and survived - because he was wearing a lifejacket

If this true story doesn’t affect you in some way as an angler and a human being then you might need to give yourself a checkover. I can’t watch the RNLI video below without feeling profoundly affected by this angler’s experiences, and I am so pleased that my recent safety related blog posts managed to find their way to Colm Plunkett, the angler from the video who was washed in off the south west coast of Ireland when he was fishing with his daughter - but he survived because he was wearing a lifejacket, and as you will read below, if he hadn’t been wearing a lifejacket then it would have ended very differently.

Firstly, I want to say a big thank you to Colm for getting in touch with me, and secondly for being so kind in letting me reproduce his email here that he had sent to various media outlets after he got out of hospital. To set the scene as such I am going to copy and paste his first email to me, my reply to Colm, and then his bloody scary email he wrote that details exactly what happened to him when he got washed in. I have fished a lot around where Colm was washed in, and with those Atlantic swells which sweep into that rugged coastline it is so easy to understand how this kind of thing can happen to any angler, however experienced they may be.

The email I received the other day from Colm: “Hi Henry, I was forwarded your Blog page on the European Angling Show 2017 and I was impressed with its content and writing style...but that's not why I am dropping you a line. I wanted to thank you for the publicity and prominent place which you gave the RNLI and the message of the importance of angling safety; which to now has basically been ignored in the angling world. I agree with you that more needs to be done by anglers for anglers on this important topic. Having been washed into the sea myself, spent an hour fighting for my life, and survived: principally because I always wear a life jacket when fishing; I know and appreciate from experience the horrendous trauma (physical and psychological) that a person goes through when they end up in the water unexpectedly. And yes you are right in recognising the need to present the do's and don'ts in a manner in which the angler can understand and appreciate. Since my dip in the sea I volunteer with the RNLI to try inform and educate people on the unrecognised risks presented by falling into cold waters (<15 degrees Celcius). I cheer you on in this endeavour would gladly offer you my experience and knowledge in highlighting the need to consider safety as a priority in planning any angling adventure. Sincerely, Colm Plunkett (living in Ireland).”

And this was my reply to Colm: “Colm, Crumbs, thanks so much for getting in touch, that really is more than kind of you - I have watched that RNLI video with you and your daughter numerous times now and every time it gets to me in a big way. I showed it to my two girls before school today. I am your typical angler, in that for far too many years now I have gone fishing, had numerous scares, yet carried on with that "it's never going to really happen to me" attitude. I am not proud of this, but for some reason the two brothers so sadly losing their lives off the north coast of Cornwall really hit home to me the other day - I was targeting that exact day to fish not very far at all from where it all went so tragically wrong for them, but I didn't head up there because the swell was forecasted to be that bit too large. I used to fish a lot exactly where this happened and I have very nearly been washed in myself there a few years ago. I can't explain exactly why, but this has really hit home to me, and if by what I do in fishing I can somehow help with getting a better safety message out there, well that's what I am starting to try and do. I have had some great fishing around where you got washed in, what a coastline. I hear of so few anglers who wear lifejackets when they are out shore fishing and I am fascinated to understand more about why you were wearing one. One hour in the water must have been beyond terrifying and I am very glad to be corresponding with you here rather than having heard about another angling related death. All credit to your daughter as well, she must have been so incredibly brave. Thanks so much again for getting in touch - would you mind if I copied and pasted your email above into a blog post I want to write that centres around that RNLI video? It would be so good to try and draw some more attention to the video AND in the blog post have words and thoughts from the person who it actually centres on. Please say yes or no, I am in your hands here. And yes, I'd love to communicate plenty about angler safety etc. I am a long way behind here, but thanks to my wife telling me to contact the RNLI and my email thankfully finding the right person, I feel that I must now do my best to try and push the better safety message out there as much as I can. Cheers, Henry.”

This is the first time I have ever photographed a shore angler wearing a lifejacket

This is the first time I have ever photographed a shore angler wearing a lifejacket

Below are Colm’s words that were written after he got out of hospital. I find them fascinating, scary, shocking, emotional and incredibly thought provoking, and as much as I am completely behind us anglers doing what we want to do and getting on with loving our fishing, I can’t personally ignore the simple fact here that Colm would have died that day if he had not been wearing a lifejacket. My mate Mark and I each wore a lifejacket for a fishing session the other day, and whilst it was flat calm and to be honest we were more at risk from tripping over a limpet than anything else, it was a very interesting exercise to see if a lightweight, modern lifejacket remotely got in the way when we were lure fishing - and it didn’t. Not one single bit. Plenty more to come here, but the words below are enough for now……………..

“I am writing to you today in the hope that other fishermen will follow my example and survive a fall / being washed into the sea.  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 to pull 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 lifejacket 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! Sincerely, Colm Plunkett.”