Ronán Siochrú, 21, arrived back at Cork Airport safe and well late last night, thanks to Aer Arann where he was welcomed home by his relieved parents, Tadgh and Mary, and family.
Ronán left Kinsale last Friday on board his 21ft Arctic Angel to raise funds for the Irish Cancer Society. But he was lashed by gale force winds on Wednesday and was plucked from mountainous seas 50 miles off the coast of Barra Head in the Outer Hebrides late on Wednesday night.
He was just 25 miles south of his first port of call, St Kilda’s. The Arctic Angel has been lost.
“It was very scary. Waves were crashing over my head, knocking the boat onto its side,” Ronán said yesterday.
“I had gale force eight winds and the swell was nine metres at one stage. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life,” he said.
“I knew gales were forecast for Friday. The forecast for Wednesday though said winds decreasing from force five or six to three or four.
“But I got stuck in a gale five at 3pm on Wednesday. I called Stornoway lifeboat station, gave them my position and looked for an accurate weather forecast for my route.
“I decided to continue sailing into the weather,” said the fourth-year UCC geography student from Bishopstown.
“But by 5pm, the winds had picked up to force seven and I was being beaten back. I was making no progress at all.
“I took down my sails and started to run with the storm using my storm jib. I phoned Stornoway again to give them my new position.
“I was looking for an escape route east or west out of the storm but communication was very broken and they didn’t seem to know what I should do.
“So I decided to head west out to open sea. I was very scared to be honest.”
Ronán was eventually forced to call in an SOS, and Barra Island lifeboat responded.
It was launched at 6pm. The crew found him at 9.15pm. “They were just a mile away at one stage but couldn’t see me because the swell was so huge. I would rise to the top of the swell and could see for miles. But in the troughs, there were just two walls of water rising nine meters above my head. I had to let off a flare to help them find me,” he said.
Ronán was eventually plucked to safety at 9.30pm. The seas were so heavy, the lifeboat crew decided towing his boat was not an option. It took the lifeboat four hours to battle its way 50 miles back to shore.
Ronán was inspired to undertake the trip to Iceland, when his mother, Mary, was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. She has since been given the all-clear.