Sarah makes history as first Union Hall RNLI woman

It was a routine rescue for one of Ireland’s newest lifeboat stations but it created a little bit of RNLI history.

Union Hall RNLI crew, Chris Collins, Sarah Browne, Stephen Hurley. It was Sarah's first shout.

Union Hall RNLI’s only female crew member, Sarah Browne, completed her first shout when she was part of the crew which responded to help a stricken yacht off the Cork coast.

“I was a bit nervous but the lads were very reassuring,” she said.

“We knew it was a yacht that had fouled its prop, and that it wasn’t in immediate danger. Conditions were calm and everything went well, so it was a good shout to have as my first experience.”

The alarm was raised around 5.26pm last Thursday when Valentia Coast Guard tasked Union Hall RNLI to respond to reports of a yacht, with two people on-board, in difficulty half a mile east of Castlehaven harbour.

The 28-ft vessel got into difficulty after an object got tangled in its propeller.

Sarah, 20, from nearby Myross, who is about to embark on her third year studying social care in Carlow IT, is home for the summer, and was working in Fuller’s Centra in Union Hall, when her pager went off.

Noel Fuller, who runs the shop and who is a member of the lifeboat’s shore crew, said: “You just drop everything and run when the pager goes off. We live in a fishing village and people are very understanding.”

They left Sarah’s younger sister, Alanna, in charge of the shop, and rushed in Sarah’s car to the lifeboat station.

Sarah was among the first three crew to arrive and knew immediately she was going out on the shout.

Noel helped launched the lifeboat at 5.35pm, with Sarah, Chris Collins and Stephen Hurley on board. They were on scene within 10 minutes.

Two whale watching boats, Voyager and Liscannor Star, stood by the casualty vessel until the lifeboat arrived. Weather conditions at the time were good and the sea was calm.

The lifeboat crew thanked the crews of the whale watching vessels and began to work with the two men on the yacht to attach a tow line.

The yacht was then towed to the safety of Reen pier and tied up before the lifeboat returned to Union Hall — joined by a pod of dolphins.

Sarah, who joined the lifeboat crew about a year ago, said she was brought up by the sea and loves swimming.

“I’m passionate about the sea, and when you see all the incidents, you can see the need for the lifeboat service,” she said.

“My dad and grandad
are fishermen and it’s very reassuring for people like them to have a lifeboat
service. You don’t want to see anyone in trouble.

“I would urge more women to join the RNLI. It’s an amazing experience and you learn something new every day.

“Girls think it’s a man’s job. But all the male crew are very supportive — they all want you to do well.”

Peter Deasy, Union Hall RNLI’s deputy launching authority, said the two men on the yacht did everything right.

“We were happy to assist the sailors. Our advice to all seafarers is to always respect the water, always wear a
lifejacket, carry a means of communication and let someone know what time you leave and what time you are due back. Should you
get into difficulty, call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coast Guard,” he said.

The Union Hall lifeboat station was established in 2014 in the wake of one of the worst fishing tragedies in recent years.

Five men drowned in 2012 when the Tit Bonhomme trawler went down at the mouth of Glandore Bay.

The tragedy galvanised
a concerted local campaign to secure a lifeboat.

Representations had already been made to the RNLI in February 2013 for a lifeboat presence in the village, and following several meetings, sanction was given in 2014 to establish a lifeboat station on a two-year trial service.

A B-class Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat, Maritime Nation, was stationed in Union Hall to cover about eight miles west and 14
miles east of the greater Glandore Bay area.

The station is flanked by Courtmacsherry RNLI to the east and Baltimore RNLI to the west.

The trial has been extended for another 12 months.

A spokesperson for the RNLI said such extensions are routine and will help the RNLI to gather more data on whether or not to establish a permanent lifeboat presence in Union Hall.

A decision is expected by the year end.

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