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Lifeboats and Lifeguards In Action

The pride of the RNLIA dip into the archives of theLifeboat reveals page after page of award-winning RNLI rescues - and the bravery of crew members continues. But how does the RNLI choose those extra-special services that merit an award?A day does not go by without a lifeboat crew member showing their selflessness, skill and courage. Every now and then, though, an RNLI rescue deserves special recognition. One of the Institution's many traditions during its 180-year history has been to reward outstanding acts of bravery.

That recognition can come in a variety of forms; the four senior RNLI awards for gallantry are the Cold, Silver and Bronze Medals, and the Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum. The most recent Gold Medal to be awarded was in 1998, presented to Coxswain Hewitt Clark, of Lerwick lifeboat station. A 2,700-tonne cargo vessel was driven ashore by breaking seas over 15m high. In terrible conditions, the crew took their lifeboat into a narrow space between the ship and shore and rescued five people. Hewitt Clark became the first person in 17 years to receive an RNLI Gold Medal.

Number of RNLI services since 1824: •more than 191,000 RNLI Medals awarded since 1824: •150 Gold -1,563 Silver • 791 Bronze (introduced in 1917) Other RNLI Awards: • Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum • Framed Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman • Letters of appreciation signed by the Chief Executive or Operations DirectorA tough task As with all lifeboat services, the details of that rescue were recorded at the lifeboat station and sent to the RNLI headquarters in Poole. Here, one of roles of the Service Information Section (SIS) is to screen all service reports. It is a big task but, SIS Manager Brian Wead explains: 'It is vital that every service is screened and merit, in whatever form, gets recognised.' If appropriate, a full report of the service is written by the relevant Divisional Inspector (Dl). That report, including any award recommendation, is considered by the Operations Director and Chief Executive and, if supported, is taken forward to the next meeting of the RNLI's board of Trustees: it is a lengthy process, but with good reason. RNLI awards are not given lightly, and a consistently high standard must be maintained.

Worth the wait Awardees are presented with their accolades at the next Annual Presentation of Awards ceremony, held each May. By this time, it can be more than a year after the rescue has taken place. But the special occasion is well worth the wait. The medal winners are taken to London for three days with their families, where they are escorted by a team of RNLI hosts, including Brian Wead.

He says: The people who gain these awards are extra special, and so are their families, so we do what we can to make sure they enjoy and remember their three days in London.' Supporters have left specific legacies to pay for the stays in London, which 8 include dinners, and a West End show.

Although keen to recognise gallantry, the RNLI is careful not to encourage its crews to be reckless. And, as Brian points out, lifeboatmen and women do not volunteer for medals and glory.

'All the medallists I have met are modest and unassuming people who just regard it as part of the job,' he says.

See the summer 2004 issue of the Lifeboat for a report of the most recent Annual Presentation of Awards. The 2005 ceremony will be on 19 May.

Read all about it After the Trustees decide upon an award, the story of the rescue always appears in the Lifeboat magazine. Lifeboats and Lifeguards in action articles draw on a variety of sources - the initial service report, the Dl's report, and interviews with the crew members themselves.

In the early days of the RNLI there were fewer than 100 rescues per year, and The Lifeboat journal had enough room for accounts of every launch. Today, the rescues highlighted for merit by the charity are just a small fraction of the brave actions carried out by crews each year.

News of a rather special Bronze Medal and some Vellums came just too late for full coverage in this issue but we trust that readers will find the following rescue accounts just as fascinating.Plucked from the SandsFifty years ago the notoriously shifting Goodwin Sands provided the backdrop for one of the worst lightship disasters ever known. Lynne Gammond reportsIn the early hours of Saturday 27 November 1954, one of the worst storms on record was raging around the Kent coast. Winds of up to TOO mph were gusting across Goodwin Sands, the sea churning in their wake. So when the South Goodwin light vessel (used to warn shipping) began to drift, concerns were raised by the Deal Coastguard for the safety of her crew of seven men. At the height of the storm the light vessel was wrenched from her moorings, sweeping her several miles to the east at a speed of about five knots. Shortly after 1am she capsized.

Throughout the night Ramsgate and Dover lifeboats searched the Sands and eventually sighted the South Goodwin light vessel lying on her starboard side. But the high seas breaking over the stricken vessel were still strong enough to prevent any of the boats getting closer than 150m.

Due to the storm, the United States Air Force 66th Squadron based at Mansion in Kent, were unable to do anything until 7.30am when an SA16, piloted by Captain Howard L Richard, flew out to the capsized light vessel. Despite making about 12 low passes, the pilot could see no survivors.

When the wind dropped an hour or so later, a second sortie was possible and Captain Curtis E Parkins flew a Sikorsky 55 helicopter to the scene. Peering through the spray on the windscreen, he spotted a lone survivor clinging to the rails of the light vessel, wearing only pyjamas and an overcoat. At great risk to himself and his crew Parkins took the helicopter exceptionally low, down to 9m above the wreckage, which was still being pounded by the sea. Despite the weather he managed to hold station over the wreck, enabling his crew to hoist a 22-year-old man to safety.

Ronald Keir Murton had been monitoring bird migration on behalf of the Government. He had been clinging to the deck rails for eight hours.

Battered and bruised by his experience, Murton said that the vessel had keeled over just as the captain was about to radio for help.

'I was standing on the table in the galley when she hit,1 he said afterwards. 'It took me about ten minutes to get to the skylight...

I worked my way up and wedged myself on the rails... At daybreak I heard someone knocking ... it was Porter [a crew member] and I asked him how he was. He replied that he was hungry.' Murton reported that two other members of the crew were trapped in the cabin, but despite searching for two days, naval frogmen found no trace.

The loss of the crew was a devastating blow to the local community and the Mayor of Deal launched a national appeal to help the bereaved families. Several days later 30 mourners boarded the Walmer and Ramsgate lifeboats for a memorial service.

Captain Curtis E Parkins was later awarded the RIMU's Silver Medal for Gallantry for his service - the first aircraft pilot to receive such recognition. Fifty years later and now 84 years of age, he lives in Sartel, Minnesota.

The Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum also went to each of the other helicopter crew members.

The South Goodwin wreck now lies roughly two miles north west of the East Goodwin light vessel and still shows at low water.

The rail where Ronald Murton had held on is clearly visible - the vessel's secret still intact after 50 years.

With thanks to the Ramsgate Maritime Museum.Lifeboats in action is usually our opportunity to describe in thrilling detail how brave lifeboat crews save lives at sea - but what's it like to be rescued? Michael O'Connetl reports on his experience and thanks Salcombe lifeboat for coming to the rescueOne summer morning, a friend and I were steering Medina Maid 180 degrees 9 miles south of Salcombe, Devon, in a force 6-7 wind.

I heard a bang and the tiller went very light. The boat came onto about 120 degrees. I realised that we had lost steerage and saw the main section of rudder surface behind the boat. We were not in imminent danger, but we were now beam onto the swell, which was rolling the boat quite considerably.

I called Brixham Coastguard to report that we would attempt to turn the boat back towards our start point but that we would need some assistance as we would not be able to make much way into the weather. We then set about jury-rigging, a form of steering, by lashing a dinghy oar to the spinnaker pole.

Before contacting the Salcombe lifeboat Brixham Coastguard put out a call for anybody in the area to help, but they had no replies. Without the lifeboat we would have been on our own. Brixham advised us that Salcombe lifeboat had been launched and would call us direct, which they did within a few minutes.

The lifeboat radio operator was very calm and reassuring, which made both of us feel better and helped us to focus on the task at hand. He asked me to count slowly from one to 10 whilst transmitting.

This I did and they managed to pick up ourVHF signal with their DF [direction finding] equipment. I quickly worked out our latitude and longitude and relayed to them our position. They gave me an ETA of 8.30am, approx 45 minutes. We started preparing the boat for towing.

By this time the weather had worsened and I estimate the wind was at least mid 7s. The swell was rolling the boat severely and we were getting very wet and cold. Although we were still in control of our situation, we were both tired and being thrown about all over the boat.

The crew of the lifeboat called us several times during the time it took them to get to us, which was a great morale booster. It made us feel in contact with the rest of the world. When the orange and blue lifeboat came into sight it felt like the sun had just come out, although by this time it was pouring with rain. They radioed for us to take down the main sail and manoeuvred into position up wind of us to get a line across.

'When the orange and blue lifeboat came into sight it felt like the sun had just come out' The swell was severe, but they made it all seem so matter of fact. Their instructions were precise and clear. We managed to tie their line onto the bridle and they took us under tow, asking all the time if we were OK.

As we came into flat water in the entrance to Salcombe it was a great relief and we both offer our sincere thanks to a great bunch of guys who showed professionalism and courage going out into unknown situations just to help other people in need.ALL WEATHER LIFEBOAT Tyne class ON-1115 (47-012) Good Shepherd Relief fleet THE CREW Coxswain Marco Brimacombe Crew Members Richard Clayton; Andrew Harris; Christopher Puncher; Kevin Page; James Cooper; Richard Whitfield SALCOMBE LIFEBOAT STATION Established: 1869 RNLI Medals: Four Silver and nine Bronze THE CASUALTIES Crew of two on a sail yacht Medina Maid Date: 29 August 2003 THE CONDITIONS Weather: Overcast Visibility: Poor, less than 1 mile Wind: Force 7 Sea state: Rough, 2m swellRed flag rescue The red flag was flying, there were constant loudspeaker announcements, and safety signs alerted people to the dangers. Despite these warnings, people were still in the waterSwimmers near Bournemouth pier were in danger of being caught by the force 4 winds and strong currents of 8 August 2004. The Area Lifeguard Manager Barry Heathfield recalls it was a busy day for the RNLI beach lifeguards:'When it's rough there, it's really rough. We were pulling people out left, right and centre.' It was mid morning and Senior Lifeguard Dan Walsh was patrolling on the shoreline. Due to the height of the waves, he could only occasionally see past the surf break. Concerned for those swimmers further away, he asked Barry to launch the rescue watercraft (RWC).

By this time a young woman was indeed in trouble behind the surf break.

Caught in a current, she was being thrown against the legs of Bournemouth pier.

Luckily, a pier deck-chair attendant spotted that someone was in trouble and he jumped from the pier with a lifebuoy.

Dan saw the man jump so he immediately grabbed his rescue board, alerted the other lifeguards by radio and raced out to where the man had gone in. As Dan paddled, his attention was drawn to other swimmers fighting against the current, but they were nearly standing, so Dan kept going towards the person in more immediate trouble. Dan recalls the moment he reached her:'The casualty was unresponsive, very pale and I couldn't tell if she was breathing.' Due to the waves by the pier Dan couldn't do a thorough medical assessment.

The deck-chair attendant had placed the lifebuoy around the woman's waist, so Dan dropped the rescue board and used the lifebuoy ropes to tow her away from the pier legs. Dan called for assistance from Barry on the RWC, accompanied by BeachSafety Manager Steve Wills. They helped place the casualty on the RWC's sled and took her swiftly to the beach.

Dan and Barry carried her up onto dry land where they were met by a lifeguard with medical equipment. Another lifeguard kept patrolling at the water's edge to make sure other swimmers were not in trouble.

Someone on the shore told the lifeguards that the woman was epileptic. It wasn't clear whether she had suffered a fit or had been knocked unconscious against the pier legs. Dan cleaned froth from the woman's mouth, clearing the airway. He established she was breathing and had a pulse. The lifeguards managed to remove the lifebuoy, put her in the recovery position and administer oxygen.

The Dorset Ambulance bicycle medic arrived on the scene within minutes. While he was assessing the casualty the lifeguards brought blankets and a stretcher. When the medic was ready, they carried the casualty up the beach onto a trolley for the ambulance.

For Dan and the others there was no time to reflect, the beach was packed and some people were still swimming. But later Dan began to realise what he had just achieved: 'While it was going on, itfettjust like a training exercise. Then I thought about it some more and I realised something big had just happened.' Dan Walsh is currently working as a lifeguard in Queensland, Australia as part of an RNLI exchange programme and is totally committed to lifeguarding:'! love the job and I love the beach. It has been such a major part of my life for as long as I can remember.'Scottish crews out in numbers Ravaged by remnants of the hurricane season, the British Isles were soaked and windswept in late summer 2004. At the end of one of the wettest Augusts on record, the rough sea conditions off the northern tip of Scotland had reached a climax: 12m waves and storm force winds. On 27 August, Lerwick, Kirkwall, Longhope,Thurso and Wick lifeboat crews were all called into action.

Dr Tony Trickett, Lifeboat Operations Manager of Longhope lifeboat station, remembers: 'I can say that this was the highest force of wind to launch in since i became honorary secretary ten years ago.' The Longhope lifeboat had been called into action in atrocious weather to help a stricken yacht in shallow water, dangerously near to rocks. It was a tough rescue, made all the more challenging by the conditions.

Dr Trickett adds: Thankfully the crew are trained to cope with these conditions and they were able to rescue the three people aboard the vessel.' On the same dayThurso lifeboat was called into action when the Norwegian vessel Arn0ytrans requested assistance due to a rudder problem.The casualty had hit trouble in the middle of the Pentland Firth, an area in which the waters of the Atlantic meet those of the North Sea. The resulting tide race is named the Merry Men of Maybut there was nothing merry about the high winds and massive, confused seas faced by the Thurso crew. 'The conditions were quite horrendous - the worst I have been in since being with the RNLI,1 says Duncan 'Dougie' Munro,Thurso's second coxswain.

Mechanic Billy Miller, also on the crew that day, remembers: 'The waves were at least 12m in height. The wind was 80-90 miles an hour, and was going against the tide.' At one point, the Thurso lifeboat took a lot of water from one side and the crew got washed off their feet. Billy adds: 'These are some of the most notorious waters in the world.The adrenalin runs through you. You have to respect the sea, and there is an element of fear, but the boat performed very well.'The grateful Norwegian crew were taken ashore.of Scotland, Orkney and the Shetland Islands are some of th most notorious in Europe. When vessels were caught by severe storms at the end of August 2004, five lifeboat crews from the area braved the ocean on the same dayThe day of rescues had begun in the early hours when the Lerwick Lifeboat Operations Manager, lanTulloch, received a call from the Coastguard at 1.45am - a yacht had dragged her anchor and run aground at the northern part of the harbour.

The Lerwick crew launched at 2.02am.

Within a quarter of an hour they had reached the yacht and a lifeboatman took a pump aboard. Once water had been pumped out of the casualty, she was towed to safety.

Ian says:'The wind was force 9-10 and the water was really choppy, even in the harbour.' Later, at 7.47am, the Wick lifeboat crew launched to a fishing vessel that was drifting onto the rocks. The lifeboat towed in the casualty along with the two crew members.

Another fishing vessel was brought to safety soon after-this time Kirkwall crew members launched to assist a boat that had suffered engine failure. The problems were caused simply by the adverse sea conditions, and the casualty was dragging her anchor.

This day of dramatic rescues underlined just how important it is that RNLI crews are on hand. Sea Safety Adviser in Scotland Michael Avril says:'RNLI volunteer lifeboat crews in the north of Scotland were very busy helping vessels caught up in the severe weather. We appeal to all sea goers to check the weather forecast before setting out.

'Anyone who does venture out should ensure they have all the appropriate safety equipment and, if they find themselves in trouble, contact the Coastguard straight away.

We have all seen what damage the weather can cause, which is why the RNLI feels it is important to make sure people are aware of the dangers.'.