A rescue at sea in horrendous weather conditions has been remembered by a west Cornwall lifeboat crew on the 50th anniversary of the incident.

The night of January 17 to 18, 1969 was the worst then-Penlee Lifeboat coxswain Jack Worth had ever experienced in more than 50 years at sea.

For 24 hours the Solomon Browne lifeboat stood by the 1,016-tonne coaster Firth Fisher, which was listing 15 degrees off the coast of the Isles of Scilly after her cargo of grain shifted in the storm.

Falmouth Packet:

The crew of the Solomon Browne were out for 24 hours. Photo: Penlee Lifeboat

Captain Daniel O’Neill of the Firth Fisher had a 40-hour battle to keep control of his ship. With the wind gusting to 91mph, he had to stand on the open deck to direct operations because conditions made control from the bridge impossible.

Jack Worth and his lifeboat crew launched at 7pm on Friday, January 17 but it took them seven hours to reach the coaster 30 miles away.

Looking back, a spokesperson for the Penlee Lifeboat today said: “The sea conditions were horrendous; the crew were battened down and battling 30 to 40-foot (9-12m) waves.

“The radio mast was damaged and no VHF messages could be transmitted.”

Other vessels in the area also came to help, with the 19,305-tonne ore carrier Cape Howe making an eight-mile turnaround so it could shelter the coaster from the main force of the storm.

British submarine Tiptoe, on exercise in the Western Approaches, also laid a purpose-made five-mile oil slick to reduce the whip of the waves.

It was the first lifeboat shout for Mousehole boy Barry Torrie and one that he never forgot.

Speaking afterwards he told the media: “Weather conditions were terrible; two trawlermen who are members of the lifeboat crew said it was the worst night they had had at sea.”

Falmouth Packet:

The names of the lifeboat crew involved in the rescue. Photo: Penlee Lifeboat

The 21-year-old was part of the crew of a fishing boat in his day job and added: “During that time I never felt nervous because I was on a lifeboat, but if I had been on anything smaller I would have worried quite a bit.”

He was not put off by the experience and said he would readily volunteer again if the lifeboat was ever short of crew.

Throughout the entire operation Coxswain Jack Worth did not leave the wheel.

They were finally relieved of their duties by the St Mary’s lifeboat, but even then the Solomon Browne had to endure a battle against the elements to return home, which they reached at around 6.30pm the following day.

Eventually the Firth Fisher was escorted to Falmouth.