Watching giant waves crash over a harbour wall during a February storm is a reminder of the best human qualities. Imagine launching a boat into such seas to rescue the crew of a stricken ship.
When the villagers of Ballycotton in County Cork watched their lifeboat, Mary Stanford, do just that in hurricane-force winds 85 years ago to try to reach the crew of a drifting lightship at the aptly named Daunt Rock, they turned and walked to the church to pray for their survival.
Despite being repeatedly knocked off their feet by the waves and blinded by spray, the seven-member crew reached the lightship, Cornet. At first the eight seamen refused to abandon their vessel because it would be a hazard to other shipping. However, repeated attempts to tow the Cornet to safety failed because steel cables were snapped in two like string.
The lifeboat crew was forced to take refuge in nearby Cobh harbour to rest and refuel before returning. They found the light vessel was close to disaster. As a last resort the lifeboat repeatedly passed close to the Cornet. Six seamen jumped into the lifeboat. The final two, injured and unable to leap, were snatched from the sinking ship’s rail by the lifeboat crew. All 15 survived.