The RNLI saves lives at sea.

Michael Joseph Mayne

Grandad wrote this article several years ago and thought he should have sent it to the RNLI.


Nowaday, our modern high speed Lifeboat launches from its moorings in the Exe estuary with great speed and efficiency. From the first of the twin 'Booms' of the distress maroons, it takes only minutes, from when she is manned by the crew - using a tender from the quayside to reach her - until the moment when she is under way and speeding out to sea. Powered by an engine capable of 18 knots, her sleek hull skims over - rather - than through - the waves. Equipped with the latest navigational aids, and comfortable covered quarters for her crew and surviviors, she is all that we have come to expect of a Liftboat in this 'High-Tech' age...But for all this, some of the romance and sheer physical effort attendant on the old rowed Lifeboats has gone - but the courage and skill of the men remain as the continuing tangible links with the past! May boyhood memories of a Lifeboat stationed at Filey on the rugged Yorkshire coast in the early 1930's are so very different....
The Lifeboat Station stood at the end of the promenade, and shared a wide slipway on which the local fishermen kept their boats. I would gaze in awe, through its wide doorway, at the size and bulk of the white, blue and red Lifeboat. It towered above me, mounted on a sturdy wooden carriage with four large iron tyred wheels. Plucking up courage, one day, I ventured inside the Station's cavernous depths,where a kindly old man, of weatherbeaten seafaring appearnce sporting the navy blue woollen jersey of the RNLI, invited me to climb the ladder leant against the Lifeboat's hull, so that I might look inside. From the top rung, I was able to see the huge oars resting, fore and aft, across the varnished teak benches on which the crew sat to row - exposed to all winds and weather. Buoyancy tanks, convex and bulbous, filled the bow and stern. The only aid to navigation was a compass, which, encircled by lovingly polished brass, was set in the top of an upright plinth situated towards the stern buoyance tank. the coxswain would sit behind it, and be able to read it - whilst steering a course using the tiller ropes attached to the cross member of the great rudder, it was explained. Above, the crew's canvas covered life jackets and yellow oilskins, hung in readiness, from the beams of the high vaulted roof of the Lifeboat Staion. With a last look around, I descended to terra firma and thanked by guide for his help. With a serious face, which did not hide the twinkle of amusement in his shaggy browed eyes, he shook my hand warmly and said I could visit the Lifeboat anytime! On my way out, I found a penny among the assorted bric-a-brac of my trouser pockets, and dropped it into the collecting box, shaped just like the Lifeboat I had inspected!
A Saturday in August was always designated 'Lifeboat Day', for this fund-raising event - the Lifeboat was wheeled from its Sation and was pulled round the town by a team of shire horses - assisited by men and boys - who pulled on the stout ropes attached to its carriage. Preceded by the town band, they would set off - the crewmen standing in the Lifeboat - took off their red woollen 'pom-pom' hats, holding them out to catch the coins thrown by the appreciative throng of townsfolk and visitors who lined the streets along the procession's route.
One autumn day, when the bay was shrouded in a thick sea mist, the twin boom of the distress rockets sounded out above the baleful notes of the Fog-Horn, which all day had warned passing ships of the dangerous rocks off the headland. I rushed out of the house - would I be in time to see the launch? By the time I reached the promenade, I was just in time to see the Lifeboat as it was towed slowly down the slipway. It was low tide, so there was a wide stretch of sandy beach to traverse before the water's edge could be reached.. The crew were already aboard, well prepared against the elements, in their oilskins, souwesters and life jackets. Progress down the beach was slow, as the shire horses heaved and strained the heavy craft over the soggy sand.... at times the wheels of the carriage bogged down in the sand, until willing brawny hands and shoulders of fishermen restored their movement. At last, the horses were in the waves, snorting and tossing their heads as the water swirled around the wheels and lapped the Lifeboat's keel. The horses were uncoupled, and were lead back to the shore and safety. the fishermen, in their thigh length boots, waded in to push the Lifeboat forward off its carriage - with an almighty effort, the boat was freed and slid into the heaving foaming water...the crew unshipped their oars, and very soon had their craft clear of the breakers, and heading thorough the swell. the mist closed in around them as they battled towards a coaster which wallowed somewhere out there - its engines out of action.
Shortly after this launch, a motor-driven Lifeboat arrived on station, and a tractor replaced the horses, much reducing the time and effort required in maritime rescue attempts. But then, as now, assistance and rescues have to be performed, and this is down to the gallant crews, who, dispite the many improvements to Lifeboats over the years, still unstintingly risk their lives, almost daily, around our coast.

Added by: Anne Mayne on 5 July 2009.

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