THE fisherman rescued after his vessel was overcome by a freak wave at Spanish Head has spoken to iomtoday about his extraordinary experience.
For Port Erin resident Bill Strutt, June 21 was just another summer’s day in the Isle of Man, the sky was blue and the wind brisk.
As he had done hundreds of times before, he phoned lifelong friend and fishing companion Hugh McCloud to join him on a trip out of Port Erin.
For three hours the men landed a decent haul of mackerel and half a dozen callig (pollack) running to six or seven pounds.
Perhaps the good sport had caught them unaware of the time, as when they rounded Bradda Head it became obvious that they had missed the tide forcing the 18-foot Dory type vessel named Wenvig to make land in Port St Mary harbour. So Bill dropped friend Hugh onto the dock in Port Erin and instructed him to tow the trailer to Port St Mary slipway and await his arrival.
Engineer Bill, 48, takes up the story.
‘It’s ironic in retrospect,’ he says. ‘On the way out of the harbour I saw the lifeboat guys on exercise, so I gave them a wave and a wide berth – I didn’t want to inconvenience them.
‘Making my way round the Sound and I reached Spanish Head where there was bit of a chop with the tide running against the south westerly wind.’
Wenvig was motoring about three quarters of a mile off the coast – well clear of any rocks – and about to vector for Port St Mary when things took a turn for the worse.
‘Looking back, this is when I should have taken the decision to turn back,’ says Bill.
‘Approaching Perwick rocks I noticed a squall coming in fast, but with Port St Mary harbour in clear view, I decided to head on.
‘It was just about then that I felt the back end of the boat begin to rise up inexorably. I thought “that’s weird” and, turning round, I was confronted by a fifteen foot wall of water about to break over the back of the boat. I am six foot two and it was at least twice my height. You can’t imagine what that feels like to have that weight of water bearing down on you.’
But rather than pitch pole stern over bow as reported initially, the vessel was completely swamped by the deluge.
‘I left the boat and it left me, is the only way I could describe it,’ says Bill.
‘Despite having a well-equipped boat with a radio and flares, I didn’t get a second to do anything.
‘So now I am up to my neck in the sea and thinking point and purpose. Do I stay with boat, or do I make for the shore?’
Only the bow sprit of the vessel remained clear of the surface, but clinging to the bow could risk him being knocked unconscious in the rough conditions. Bill decided the best plan was to swim for it.
Fortunately, as an ex Scots Guard, his survival training kicked in.
‘I kicked away from the boat and swam parallel to the south running tide headed for Perwick Bay. In my mind, I knew I wanted to keep inside the line of Bay Stacka as that would risk being swept out past Spanish Head – a nightmare scenario.’
‘I fixed my point on a large rock in the middle of the Perwick shore which I named “Wendy” after my wife, and I focused my entire mind and physical effort on getting to Wendy.’
When asked if depression kicked in at any time, Bill replies: ‘At one point it started to rain and as the drops hit my life jacket I got a fright as the noise sounded just like a puncture. But I knew that nine times out of ten if you think “oh god I am going to die here”, then you probably will.’
Meanwhile, friend Hugh was beginning to get worried.
Standing at Kallow Point with binoculars raised he called the coastguard.
By this time Bill had been in the water for approaching an hour and he was aware that hypothermia was beginning to set in.
‘If you can imagine only my head is above the water and virtually invisible between the peaks and troughs of the waves,’ he said.
‘The chances of spotting someone in these conditions are negligible.
‘I was about 30 yards off the shore when the lifeboat lads arrived. I was incredibly relieved to be back onboard a boat. Within minutes I was being whisked to Noble’s Hospital by ambulance and receiving treatment for hypothermia – my core temperature had dropped by three and half degrees.
‘I want to say a huge thanks to the doctors and nurses, that lifeboat crew, and of course, Hugh McCloud for calling them in. If everybody had a buddy like him them they wouldn’t be too bad off.
‘And for me, for ever more there will be a rock named Wendy in Perwick Bay.’