TEN years ago today three lifeboats, including Falmouth RNLI, were called to help rescue a dismasted training vessel with 47 people on board, including 36 young cadets.

The call-out to the 48m Polish sail training vessel Fryderyk Chopin resulted in one of the longest services in recent years for the lifeboat crews at Sennen Cove, St Mary’s and Falmouth RNLI.

The vessel had been dismasted in storm force conditions and was drifting 93 miles south west of the isles of Scilly.

She was safely towed into Falmouth after more than 48 hours under tow. During the journey she and the fishing vessel Nova Spero were escorted by three seperate RNLI lifeboats, each of which was at sea for up to 27 hours. The volunteer crew of the Falmouth lifeboat saw her safe arrival in the port.

The sail training vessel was on a voyage to the Caribbean to provide adventure training for the teenagers when she was dismasted in heavy seas and high winds in the south west approaches. Lifeboats from three separate Cornish stations were involved in escorting her, each one spending more than 12 hours providing safety cover whilst the vessel was towed at slow speed by a Newlyn trawler back to the safety of Falmouth Harbour.

The vessel was taken under tow by Newlyn gill-netter Nova Spero from approximately 90 miles southwest of the Isles of Scilly at around 8am on Friday 29 October 2010. The 47 people, including 36 teenagers, remained on board the Fryderyk Chopin throughout as, although the vessel`s masts and rigging were badly damaged, she remained structurally intact and sound; and evacuation of the crew would have been very difficult, either by helicopter or lifeboat.

The St Mary's RNLI lifeboat crew, under the command of Coxswain Peter Hicks, were launched at 3.06pm on to escort the vessels. It took the crew five hours to reach the casualty in a force 9 gale and rough seas. St Mary’s RNLI stood by the vessels for 12 hours from 8pm on the Friday to 8am on Saturday.

As conditions remained poor throughout Saturday, Falmouth Coastguard requested the launch of Sennen Cove Lifeboat to continue the escort. The relief Tamar class lifeboat Frank and Anne Wilkinson under the command of Coxswain Terry George launched at 3pm on Saturday 30 October. The lifeboat met with the casualty and tow roughly 15 miles south-southeast of Scilly at 5pm and took over the escort until 7am on Sunday morning. During these 15 hours of escort, which included an additional hour as the clocks went back, the tow progressed at around 21 miles in poor weather.

Escort duties were taken up by the Falmouth Lifeboat who stayed with both vessels until they reached Falmouth harbour safely after more than two days under tow.

Dan Shannon, Sennen Cove's current second Coxswain and crew member on the all weather lifeboat 10 years ago says;

‘Long services like this are exhausting for all crews, standing by vessels in heavy rolling seas. As well as our volunteer lifeboat crews, credit must be given to the towing vessel. It was a long, long tow for Shaun Edwards and his crew on the Nova Spero - very professionally handled in very difficult conditions.’

Shortly afterwards the RNLI received a letter of thanks from Barbara Tuge-Erecinska, the then Polish Ambassador, which said; ‘For most of the trainees, the journey was supposed to be a lifetime experience, and I wish to express my deep gratitude for the hospitality and support they have received during this stressful time. Once again, please accept my thanks for the effort made in order to secure their safety and wellbeing.’