EDITOR'S NOTE: In March 2018, Storm Emma wreaked havoc on Holyhead Marina. All around the UK, news channels broadcast images of what seemed like total destruction. The following account is from one of the charter skippers based there, Gethyn Owen, a friend of Anglers' Net for many years, and is testament to the fighting spirit of himself and the Holyhead maritime community. If you ever get a chance to visit North Wales, see if you can book a trip out with Gethyn....you won't regret it!
My Way, My Story by Gethyn Owen
This nightmare all started on the afternoon of Thursday 01st March 2018. The winds had been forecast strong all week, but they had been increasing slowly through the day. Easterly winds are the worst for us, we are pretty well protected from most other directions, but anything from the North East or Easterly directions makes you take additional care.
The winds were not really any different to any we’d suffered at the marina before, so, as normal, I went to check the boat, adjust fenders, throw a couple extra lines on to ensure everything remained safe.
Standing watching the storm was a little unnerving. The power in the wind felt unbelievably strong and destructive. Then by 5pm, waves were coming over the pontoons and the water surge looked to be far stronger than witnessed before.
That night was restless, listening to the wind and hoping all at the marina was good. I finally got up at 5.30am and decided on a trip down there to make sure all was well. I received a call at 6am to say My Way's pontoon finger had now failed and she was loose within the carnage of the marina. Carnage! Other boats had been breaking free and sinking through the night, the marina was suffering from some catastrophic devastation.
The scene at the marina was unreal, pontoons and boats being tossed around by the wind and sea regardless of size and weight. My Way had held on to her ropes all through the night, but with the finger on the pontoon failing, she then broke free and was loose amongst a number of other free boats in a cauldron of debris in the South West corner of what was Holyhead Marina.
Many of us stood there in utter disbelief, unable to do anything to assist as near hurricane force winds took their toll on anything in their path. By 8.30am, helpless to the plight of my boat, I went home for a coffee. My nerves were shot and I needed to gather my thoughts. Returning to the marina shortly after, I learned that in the hour I was away, another big steel yacht came crashing through the marina, hitting many things, including My Way.
Sadly, My Way sank.
Maybe in good fortune, I missed this scene by 10 minutes. Who knows how I would have been had I witnessed such a thing? My Way was not just a work boat, she was a way of life. For those that run marine-based businesses, their craft are part of them. My Way had served me well for 14 years, never letting me down. When not working, I would be there painting, polishing and maintaining her. So much of my life was spent aboard that boat.
Over 80 boats were either sunk or smashed up on the rocks during this unprecedented 24hr period. Holyhead Marina was left in total destruction, with barely a pontoon still floating and wreckage showing through the water as a dark reminder of what had gone before.
When the other boat hit her, it pulled My Way from the cauldron of boats and debris I mentioned earlier. She then sunk with the wind and waves punishing her against the rocks until she came to rest near the shoreline. It was now essential that I found out the full extent of her damage as early as I could. Her GPS and VHF aerial’s were barely visible at high water, so it was a cold and wet wait on the rocks for low water to survey what we could of the damage.
As the water abated, it was horrible to see the battle scars that adorned both starboard and port sides. Also noticeable was a big hole in the bow and the portside stern quarter torn away. We could just make out another hole on her portside, just below the waterline, but with the low water not receding enough this was all we could see for the time being.
It's at times like this that good friends rally around. I had already received a call from a friend who had dived all his life and had the necessary lifting apparatus to salvage My Way from the sea for further inspection. This took a week to plan properly; firstly I needed to secure permission from the Harbour Master to work in the area with divers, then purchase a host of additional items pertaining to our particular lift – straps, shackles, ropes etc.
Exactly one week after she sank, the salvage operation started and after the first dive it became clear this was no easy task. My Way had crashed through the rocks and come to rest in 3ft of thick mud; she was stuck fast up to her water line. With three divers working tirelessly to clear the area in very low visibility, it still took three hours to clear the area to allow for the first lift strap to be fed underneath the bow.
Through all this, I was taking calls from many well-wishers asking on the future of My Way, many of whom were keen to know how the salvage was progressing. I could only let them know that I was simply looking at it in stages;
Stage One - lift
Stage Two - survey
Stage Three – insurance, etc.
I would only be in a position to plan each following stage on completion of the previous. Yes, you can have ideas and thoughts, but the actual process was slow and extremely difficult to plan properly.
It took two whole days for the dive guys working in a cold and murky sea to secure the straps underneath My Way and then correctly attach the lift bags for us to be in a position to inflate them and slowly raise My Way from where she lay.
I was full of man-flu and this didn’t help. A coughing fit part way through the Saturday afternoon turned to tears. Yes, I’d had a few tears thinking what the hell is going on all week, but the salvage operation itself took its toll and I collapsed on the dive pontoon and blubbed like a fool, the overwhelming emotions showing through from the whole experience.
Finally, with My Way now floating, it was over to the main salvage team to lift her onto the Soldiers Quay at Holyhead Breakwater. One of the first boats to be lifted from the devastation, it was a scene that would become a regular sight over the coming weeks.
As she was lifted, the true extent from the storm damage could be seen, including a 6ft by 2ft portside hole. The propeller, fitted brand new only 10 months ago, was mangled and completely unrecognisable.
There was a fracture to the stern bulkhead and the cabin door and frame had been ripped away. My Way was in a poor state. Inside, the toilet cubicle was in bits and she was full of mud and diesel.
My Way was surveyed on the following Monday morning, 12th March; she was declared a Total Constructive Loss. In fairness to my insurers at this stage, they accepted the findings and arranged to pay out as insured.
I had already had a look around the internet for a possible replacement vessel and had a few marked for a further look. Phoning around the country, speaking to colleagues, I was pointed in the direction of Gosport and a craft that had only just come up for sale a few days earlier; an Offshore 105 with a fast Iveco 420 inside with only 1000 hrs on. A quick call to the skipper Tuesday evening and I was on the road at 3am the following morning to view. The boat was perfect and a deal was done for My Way 2.
I thought the hard work was over, but in reality it was only just beginning. There were so many uninsured costs in the process of purchasing a new boat after the storm, along with so many new costs following the devastation of the marina.
The following day I spent three hours on the phone with my Small Business Advisor at the bank in the hope to secure a small business loan to fulfil the basics of the purchase and getting My Way 2 back to North Wales. After much pleading, and a fair few denials, a loan was agreed and I was finally moving forward.
It was still not enough to secure everything we needed to do and there were a number of money worries ahead. With losing the marina, we had also lost the whole infrastructure that we had taken for granted for so many years, berthing and fuelling the most obvious. Neither were now available. Additional costs on mooring and a fuel bowser alone totalled £3000. Then I needed a to purchase a rib and outboard to get to the mooring - another £1000.
While in Gosport, I had arranged for My Way 2 to be surveyed in order for her new Code Of Practice to transfer to myself. It made sense, as the surveyors in North Wales were all busy with the storm devastation. With this, and the need for My Way 2 to be transported to North Wales, another £1600 was required. I went to Gosport with crewman Mark Dolben to oversee the loading and make good anything that needed to be removed for a safe journey.
Everything went well. The coding was done and the boat was loaded and on her way. 45 minutes into the journey and, as I was driving, Mark took a call for me. It was the haulage company. With My Way 2 being delivered to Dinas Boat Yard, as Holyhead had no space, she was going to need a wide load escort at a cost of another £230 – what do I want to do? Really!
Fortunately many people came to our aid, not just the angling community but further afield, from all walks of life and from all over the UK and Ireland. The events that unfolded during Storm Emma at Holyhead Marina left everyone involved devastated. Many people lost their boats. Some of those boats were also their homes and, for me and many others, our work boats.
Soon after the storm, people started to share their kind thoughts and also fund raise on behalf of all three Holyhead charter boats. Having experienced such kindness and generosity first hand, please don’t ever underestimate the power of kind words. Because of these and the funding that has gone on on our behalf, we all kept strong and positive, working around the clock to be in a position to relaunch our businesses early April 2018.
The next drama was to get the new boat insured. Naturally, it was accepted the insurance premium would increase, but initially my insurers refused to cover My Way 2 in Holyhead. I spent seven hours one day on the phone calling numerous brokers, to be told no new business for Holyhead. They were all avoiding Holyhead following the storm; more heartache and stress.
Eventually, after calling the underwriters myself and discussing with them their obligations, the issue was resolved and My Way 2 was insured, albeit at an 80% increase on the previous year
Whilst working on the many main issues, there were many other considerations and purchases needed - items we lost, or unsalvageable after the storm, that are required legally for our Code of Practice, or simply items that allow us to offer the professional service you expect; New flares, some new lifejackets, thermal protection aids, some items of electronics, kettle, cups, rods, reels, ropes, fenders, charts, and almanacs – the list is almost endless.
My Way 2 arrived at Dinas Boat Yard on 20th March and it was then a daily routine of splitting time between there and Holyhead, trying to sort everything else required and prepare our business ready to work again. I needed a mooring to keep My Way tethered and safe when not in use. Fortunately, HSC were more than willing to assist and welcomed us into their community. The spirit of support amongst everyone in and around has been superb and, finally, we had a base to operate from.
My fuel bowser was ordered, delivered and installed in the fuel store at Holyhead Marina, following which my rib arrived and, also, the new outboard. Now I could venture to My Way 2 on her swinging mooring – new skills required, learning to operate these items professionally and safely.
Amongst all this work, I also attended a meeting with the local MP regarding any support that the Welsh Assembly Government could offer the community. I’d like to think this was positive and we are now awaiting details from the proposals the WAG are setting out.
I had a few sea trials aboard My Way 2 on the lead up to our first official launch. The boat didn’t need them, they were more for me to get used to the new boat. She’s bigger than the original My Way and I needed to get used to the many small differences I was going to encounter.
On April 1st, we made our first official launch of My Way 2 and sailed into Caernarfon Bay with family and friends for a few hours fishing at anchor (see photos below). It was a great feeling to be back at the helm of my own craft and enjoying some calm seas and sunshine while catching fish. May Way 2 worked well and, with 11 persons aboard, proved that her size and sheer amount of deck space was going to be a great benefit for anglers in the years to come operating out of Holyhead.
Later that week, I made the 2 1/2 hr journey by sea from Caernarfon to Holyhead. It was an immense feeling to come around the coast and view the various marks and features that had been an everyday occurrence for me for so many years aboard the original My Way.
April 7th saw our first trip following the relaunch of My Way 2 and us being back in business...and what a fantastic ‘restart’ to our 2018 fishing! Plenty of spurs and huss to start with, then tope, then triple shots of nice coalfish, together with dogs, dabs, whiting etc.
And, of course, not forgetting the extras that make a trip aboard My Way well worth taking - sausage rolls, muffins, chicken balti and cheesecake, too!
I'd like to use this closing paragraph as an opportunity to thank everyone who helped over the past few months – there are far too many to mention individually here, but you all know who you are – and also to the anglers who booked trips on My Way 2 as soon as they heard we were back in business. Rather than the disaster it first seemed, I'm looking at this as a new chapter and can't wait to give as many of you as possible the full 'My Way treatment'. I'll miss My Way, but will enjoy every day with My Way 2 and I'm looking forward to sharing her with you all.
Gethyn Owen - www.goangling.co.uk
THE FIRST TRIPS