Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Shoreham RNLI: Rescues at Sea

Hello and welcome to my blog. It's lovely to see you again.

It's great down here at the moment. We've got calm, warm sunny days; the daffodils are showing off and the trees are dressing up in blossom. What an ideal time to cycle down and see us. Just remember that Shoreham Beach ends at the Harbour entrance so, unless you're related to the Big G, you'll have to go back the way you came. Personally I would like to change that, but that's a whole new blog and a whole load of letters to the Beach News. Oh hang it, come here, I'll whisper, "how about a broadwalk from the shops down to the Old Fort so the beach can be accessible to all?"  Whilst the dust settles on that, I'll move onto the second feature on Shoreham RNLI.

Just to re-cap, Dave Cassan's been a volunteer with the organisation for over 17 years and spent 15 of those as lifeboat crew. He's now the station Spokesman and here he talks about some of their rescues.
Dave Cassan

"The ships officers know about the call roughly 2 minutes in advance of the rest of the crew. Then our pagers go off and we all come charging down here. By that time the Coxswain knows what the shout is, so when the crews arrive things either heat up or calm down. So it could be "calm down - tow job," because a guy's gone out in his fishing boat the previous night, gone to start his engine in the morning and the battery's dead, or it could be "launch both boats."

Launch both boats normally makes your heart drop because it quite often means that there is somebody in the water missing.  Around here, that will quite often be a diver who has got separated from the rest of his group. Now a diver's head is all that shows above water and it's the size of a football. So all you need is a wave slightly bigger than that and you can't see him. So if you've got a diver missing at sea we will tend to get more crew on board; the more eyes on deck, the more chance we have of seeing him.

Fires at sea are particularly nasty and you do wonder what you'll find when you get there. The problem is that everyone tries to get away from what's on fire. The only place they've got is the briny and you can get alot of people leaping off board if they haven't got a life raft.

We do have fire fighting equipment and we are trained and experienced in fire fighting, but we don't have some of the equipment that the fire officers have. There was a situation about 4 years ago where a cruise liner, the Calypso, caught fire in the Channel. Seven lifeboats responded to that and one of the things that was happening was the transfer of fire teams and medics by helicopter to the liner but also onto one of the lifeboats so they could supervise the fire fighting.

While we were fighting the fire, (the first one), underneath the West Pier, we had 2 fire officers on our lifeboat with thermal imagining equipment. They knew where the firemen were fighting the fire and were looking for hot spots underneath them. So they would direct us, "That piece of metal is far too hot. Cool it down. There's something happening on the other side."

In all honesty the worse shout you can actually come across is when you hear there's a fire at sea and there are children involved. The crews all tend to have children and grand-children so they share alot of empathy for people when a child is involved.

There are times when it's a horrible night and you're curled up in bed and you know what's going to happen. There are times when you've had a sharp intake of breath when you've launched and you've said to yourself, "this is going to be painful. I'm going to be hurting for the next three days after this one." But there have never been any occasions when we've refused to go out and I can't recall an incident where we've abandoned a vessel that could have been saved.

The partners, wives and families do get worried about their men and before the boathouse was re-built they used to gather there in dribs and drabs waiting for their return. It happens less now."

Next week, they'll be a brief intermission when I talk about something other than the RNLI, but after that I'll be returning with a feature on what makes the lifeboats, "the finest vessels in the world."

Thanks for popping by and see you next week.


Saturday, 12 March 2011

RNLI: The Lifeboat Crews

Hello and welcome to my blog. It's wonderful to see you again and I hope you've had a good week. I'm very excited about the next series of blogs so I'm going to dive straight in.

The RNLI is recognised as being “just about the ultimate lifeboat service” and over the next few weeks I'm going to look at various aspects of the organisation through the eyes of Dave Cassan, Shoreham RNLI's Press Officer, a lifeboat mechanic and some of the crews' wives and families.

Dave Cassan has been volunteering at Shoreham RNLI for the last 17 years. He spent 10 years crewing both the Inshore (ILB) and All Weather Lifeboat (ALB), followed by a further 5 years just on the ALB. He retired from the crews 2 years ago so he could devote more time to management roles at the lifeboat station. 

In this blog he talks about the lifeboat men.

“The vast majority of crews are between about 20 years old and mid 50s. If someone wants to join, they’ve got to live within one and a half miles of the station because you've got eleven minutes from the pager going off in your pocket to the big boat (ALB) hitting the water. 

If it’s a life saving shout then all Hells let loose at the lifeboat station. We get that boat out as quickly as we can and go with the minimum amount of crew as long as we have a qualified coxswain, qualified navigator and qualified mechanic on board.  When she goes you’ll find that nobody goes anywhere forward of the tail end of the stern. You’ve got 30 tonnes of lifeboat travelling at 30 mph down a slipway and you just don’t want to get caught out.

There is an adrenaline rush when the pager goes off but by the time the boat’s launched you’ve had 10-12 minutes and you have calmed down. Then you’re completely focused on what you’re going to do.

The coxswain is in charge the moment the lifeboat hits the water and one of his main jobs is to make sure the crews are capable of doing their job when they get there. It’s no good getting to the casualty in 25 minutes if your crew can hardly move when they arrive. On the ILB if it’s hurting you slow down a bit, Enid Collett has hydraulic seats so it’ll be more comfortable at speed but you won’t be able to tell how much of a pounding you’re taking.

Our coxswain is Peter Huxtable and he’s the boss. Without trying to sound soppy or anything, the respect the crews have for him is unbounded, it’s incredible. If you look out and it’s breakers and you think, “Oh,” but Peter says, “Get on board,” you get on board because if Peter goes to sea, the crews know they will come back and the casualties will come back. 

There’s a bonding between the crews, and while I don’t want you to think that we put ourselves in as much danger as, for instance, the armed forces, they always talk about a bonding between a platoon and I think you get that at every lifeboat station. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it’s never going to manifest itself, but there are people here that you wouldn’t mix with socially but they’d lay down their life for you and you’d do the same for them. 

We all have our own reasons for why we do it. There are guys here who don’t want to leave Shoreham in case there’s a shout. A lot of them are self-employed, yet they turn up every time and go to sea every time and they lose money hand over fist because of it.

Shoreham lifeboat is full of consummate lifeboat men. That’s one of the reasons that the RNLI is so effective; the lifeboats are crewed by men who want to do it. It’s not a job, it’s a vocation.”

Next week I’ll be dealing with some of the types of incidents in which Shoreham RNLI have been involved.

See you next week. Ta-ra.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Shoreham Harbour Lifeboat Station

Hello and welcome to my blog. It's lovely to see you again.

We've had some sunshine these past few days, but no chance of getting too excited as it's been paired with bitterly cold winds; Mother Nature being a bit of a tease there. It didn't bother me too much as I've been holed up transcribing a detailed interview I had with Dave Cassan, Press Officer at Shoreham RNLI, last December.  I'll be sharing some of his fascinating insights with you over the next few weeks, but in the meantime thought I'd tell you why it's caught my imagination.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the demolition of the old lifeboat station and completion of its’ replacement. 

It’s likely to be the RNLI’s last major refurbishment on the South Coast, and was built to house our new Tamar class lifeboat, Enid Collett.

Known as “the jewel in the fleet,” the Tamar class is the RNLI’s latest design in lifeboats and is gradually replacing the slower, smaller and lighter Tyne class, like our old lifeboat, Hermione Lady Colwyn.

The RNLI chose to replace Shoreham’s lifeboat because it is a key lifeboat station what with its’ Port, fishing fleet and extended area of operation. Indeed Shoreham crews have attended shouts from the Solent to Dungeness. However, when it came to rebuilding the lifeboat station, the RNLI were concerned about rebuilding on the same site.

Slipway launched lifeboats, like ours, are not popular with the RNLI. They prefer the safer and less expensive “afloat boats,” like those at Brighton or Littlehampton.  Thus they spent 18 months exploring the option of a lifeboat station on stilts at Southwick Locks, before resorting back to a slipway launched boat on the current site.

A frustrating 14-month delay followed as planning problems were dealt with, but this was tempered when Shoreham learnt that they were to benefit from a large legacy left by a lady called Enid Collett. Enid Collett came from Cambridgeshire and was involved in the theatre for most of her life.  She died leaving 50% of her estate to the RNLI which covered half the £2.7million purchase price of the new Tamar.

On 10th December 2010, the Newhaven, Brighton and Littlehampton lifeboats escorted Enid Collett to our new lifeboat station. "It was a truly historic occasion for us,” said Dave Cassan, RNLI Press Officer, “The last time this happened was in 1933 when we got a new boathouse and boat so what happened on Friday will be the first and last time that any crewmember at Shoreham will see that.”  Two days later, Enid Collett was called out on her first shout from the new station.

The official naming and dedication ceremony for both the lifeboat and the station will be held in mid-June.  However, the station is already open to the public from Mondays to Fridays, 10.00am – 2.00pm and weekends from 10.00am – 4.00pm. Group visits can be arranged outside those hours. 

If you can't get there, here's a virtual tour I made earlier. 

If you would like to know more about our station or make a donation to the on-going appeal please visit the Shoreham RNLI website. 

Thanks for popping by and see you next week when I'll take a closer look at the lifeboat crews.