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The definitive story of the Helen Blake lifeboat disaster in which nine men lost their lives – one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the RNLI in Ireland.

“One of the most incredible stories
of survival in the annals of the sea”


“ … a gripping story; I couldn’t put it down”

“Ordinary men. Extraordinary heroes”

In February 1914, the schooner Mexico went aground on rocks surrounding the tiny Keeragh Islands off the South East coast of Ireland. The Helen Blake lifeboat – a thirty-five foot rowing boat – went to its aid with the fourteen man crew fighting through three miles of violent seas to reach the stricken ship. When they reached the scene, three freak waves smashed their boat to pieces and nine men lost their lives.

The five survivors made it to shore and completed their rescue mission, bringing everybody safely off the ship. Rescuers and rescued together were then trapped for three days and nights without food, water or shelter, in the worst storm for a generation. It took the combined efforts of three other lifeboats before they were eventually rescued.

For the first time, this book tells the full story of the perilous three month voyage of the Mexico, during which it twice lost its rudder, and came close to capsizing on numerous occasions, the Helen Blake disaster, and their extraordinary survival in atrocious conditions.

Funds for the lifeboat were provided by Helen Blake, a Victorian socialite who died intestate leaving an estate valued at around £15,000,000 in today’s terms, and a mystery that has never been solved. No record of her birth can be found, no relatives can be traced, and hundreds of unsuccessful claims to her fortune have been made – many of which are chronicled in this book. She has been described as ‘an enigma wrapped in a mystery’.