PADSTOW lifeboat crew braved horrendous sea conditions when they helped rescue six fishermen off the North Cornwall coast on Saturday.
The crew of the French trawler Le Sillon were forced to abandon ship with the boat ending up smashed on rocks between Porthcothan and Bedruthan Steps.
The fishermen had to jump into the heaving seas in their survival suits because the conditions were too bad for a rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose to lift them from the deck of their vessel.
The French boat had been struck by large waves and began drifting five miles off Trevose Head, on Saturday afternoon, after losing power and steering.
With winds gusting up to 60mph, and 30-foot waves smashing the boat, five of the crew were plucked from the water by the Royal Navy helicopter while the skipper was recovered by Padstow's all-weather lifeboat.
Miraculously, none of the fishermen received serious injuries.
Richard Pitman, Padstow RNLI's second coxswain, said the sea conditions were the worst the crew had experienced in many years.
"Initially we had managed to get a tow attached to the trawler and were pulling her clear of land, but the swell was just too big and the tow line parted. With the trawler heading close to the rocks, we needed to get the crew off. It was too dangerous for us to attempt bringing the lifeboat close enough to take them off and after assessing the situation, the helicopter pilot wasn't happy to put his winch man down onto the trawler to pick up the crew," said Mr Pitman.
"It was decided that the safest option was for the winch man to pick the crew out of the water. The pilot was able to use the trawler as a point of reference and the crew took it in turns to jump into the sea, the winch man was slowly lowered down and collected them one after the other.
"The trawler had lost all power so had no radio. They were using a mobile phone to call the French coastguard, who were conversing with Falmouth coastguard, who were talking to us and the helicopter, which didn't help matters.
"The first five of the crew were successfully picked up, but when the skipper jumped, he went from the bow of the boat which meant that the helicopter pilot lost his point of reference and couldn't locate him, we were close by and were quickly able to grab the skipper, luckily first time.
"Conditions were too rough to go into Padstow and at one point we weren't sure whether we could recover the lifeboat back up the slipway. Thankfully we managed, as we would have had to stay out there and wait for conditions to die down.
"Our lifeboat crew did a brilliant job. They are all very experienced and knew what they were doing. At the end of the day everyone survived and that's the main thing. The winch man did an amazing job, one minute he was in the air, the next in the water."
For more coverage on the storms across Cornwall see pages 24-27.