Our Blog

Burnham Review Lifeboat Copy December 2016

As anyone who has paid attention to TV ads and newspapers will know, Christmas is a time for families to come together. At this time of year, the hope is mariners are aware of the weather and the temperature and judge the necessity of any journey against the risk. The sea is a place of work even more than a place of leisure, so sailors cannot always choose whether or when they are expected to be on it.

I remember spending some holiday time visiting the church which sits overlooking the Normandy town of Honfleur in lower Normandy. People from the town have made their living from the sea for generations and the church bears plaques on its walls in memory of sailors, mainly fishermen, who never returned. The same names appear on several of the stones. I stopped counting at sixty. It made me too aware of the potentially momentous consequences of an apparently simple decision. When to get back on the boat and set off for the next destination.

On 19th December 1981, the mini bulk carrier Union Star was making its maiden voyage. The captain made an unauthorised stop on the east coast of England to pick up his wife and teenage stepdaughters. The weather rapidly worsened, with 100 mph winds and 60 foot waves. As the vessel was eight miles off Wolf Rock, South of Cornwall, sea water mixed with fuel and the engines stopped and could not be restarted. The vessel was being driven towards a lee shore. The powerless ship was blown across Mounts Bay towards the rocks of Boscawen Cove, near Lamorna.

There were delays issuing a Mayday, but the Coast Guard at Falmouth soon tasked a Sea King Helicopter to attempt to rescue the crew. However, the waves were too violent and the wind too strong. The RNLI Lifeboat Solomon Browne from Penlee Lifeboat station at Mousehole had been given notice and Coxswain Trevelyan Richards was assembling his volunteer crew. They were Second Coxswain/Mechanic Stephen Madron, Assistant Mechanic Nigel Brockman, Emergency Mechanic John Blewett, and crew members Charlie Greenhaugh, Kevin Smith, Barrie Torrie and Gary Wallis.

Neil Brockman, the son of Nigel Brockman, got to the lifeboat station on time to be part of the crew, but was turned down for the trip by Richards, who was reluctant to take out two members of the same family.

Richards knew full well what he and his crew were to face. By now, from the name Penlee, many of you reading this will be aware all 16 members of the crew of both vessels perished, even after the lifeboat successfully took four casualties on board.

Trevelyan Richards was posthumously awarded the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s Gold medal, while the remainder of the crew were all posthumously awarded Bronze medals. The local community gave their own acclamation. Within a day of the disaster, enough people from Mousehole had volunteered to form a new lifeboat crew.

Families are the strength of the RNLI, from the crew who give of their time so generously, and sometimes their lives, to the fundraisers, organisers, engineers and managers, you will find the names of volunteer’s families carry on through the years, playing their part in the story. It is by no means always a dramatic contribution. Sometimes the result is a Carol Service or a Boat Jumble. But without their support and enthusiasm, the seas around our coast would be a far more dangerous place.

So, while the events off the Cornish coast 35 years ago may seem far away and long ago, the equivalent decisions are being made many times each week by many helms and Lifeboat Operations Managers around our coast; who to pick and who to leave behind. Not every “shout” puts life in danger, but the crew taking the boat out usually do not know what awaits them in any great detail. And at this time of year, when the weather can change violently and survival time in the water is measured in minutes, each such decision could be the defining moment in someone’s life.

Along with representatives of other charities, on the 9th January, students of Ormiston Rivers Academy year eight students will be given a presentation by volunteers from the Burnham Lifeboat station as part of an initiative by First Give, a social action group. The students will then discuss, decide and vote on which charity to support and will make a donation accordingly. The thousands, even millions of individual decisions taken every year, by people up and down the country, on which charity to support favour topical appeals. But anyone whose family chooses to spend its time for work or leisure on the sea may just find their decision makes itself.

Tags: , ,

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work! Please upgrade today!