You’ve got to love a man in uniform, but there’s something about the boys on the Salcombe Lifeboat that’s really special, and it goes way beyond the canary yellow boots.
The lifeboat is iconic at any seaside town, and particularly in Salcombe. The flares go off and moments later the orange and blue Tamar class boat turns heads all the way along the estuary… and sends a fair few dinghies bobbing off course at the same time.
Small children with ice creams in their hands smile and wave, and under blue skies and summer sun it all seems like entertainment. But in this little piece of paradise that we all know and love, these men and women are the ones keeping us safe. So with that kind of prestige, you can only imagine the joy that went with joining the crew for a morning of training.
Dressed for action
Trussed up in what is possibly the heaviest lifejacket I have ever come across, my immediate feeling was one of total inadequacy. As these guys ran around making themselves useful, I seriously could have done with a cup of tea simply to get over the effort of putting the kit on!
Having finally made it onto the boat however, the really clever stuff began. From the sprung seats to absorb the impact of rough seas to the inner workings of the engine room, I was enthralled.
The most interesting engine in Salcombe
I have to be honest, in any other part of my life if you asked me if I wanted to be given a guided tour of an engine room, the answer would probably be a raised eyebrow. In this context, should you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it. Partially because of the enthusiasm and depth of knowledge emanating from Andy Harris, the boat’s mechanic, and members of the crew – in this instance, Adam Lilley, and partially because even the site and size of it is something to behold, giving an indication of the power it yields.
The size of the lifeboat, which seems to be in direct opposition to its speed and agility is fascinating, and momentarily taking Adam’s place at the bow of the lifeboat to get a glimpse at the sea from his point of view, I felt pretty important, even if I do say so myself.
All about the people
More to the point however, I felt safe. Just as well you might say, but all the more upon being told that in the eventuality of the boat being turned over in rough seas, it would right itself and bob back up.
Shiny, clean and impressive as the boat is however, for me the true awe doesn’t come from the equipment but from the people themselves. Populated by a combined team of full time staff and volunteers, Clark Kent really doesn’t have anything on this lot, they emanate a sense that everything is under control.
Doctors, those working on the harbor, mechanics, fishermen, artisans and local business owners, the skillsets of those involved are wide and dynamic, each person (many of whom you are probably walking past on any given day of your summer holiday) with their own story and bringing something unique to the proverbial table.
Keeping the lifeboat afloat
It is with no small degree of commitment either – at a rough cost of £1500 per call out, not to mention the annual training and maintenance costs that go alongside making this an ever-ready service, there is commitment, responsibility and a very real awareness of all the components and finances needed to keep this mission afloat – literally.
While the lifeboat has been called out more than 50 times in 2014, for the most part (thankfully), they have been circumstances that have been easily rectified with the crew’s unfailing professionalism, whether it be the man caught unawares by an unexpected descent of fog or fishing boats with mechanical failure at sea.
Triumph and disaster
Nonetheless, there are stories a fisherman suffering a major bleed to the leg and a surfer who got into difficulties. No surprise then that it has been the subject of a TV series – Hollywood will no doubt be knocking on the door any day now, but one hopes that the future brings very little fodder of interest and that smooth sailing lies ahead.
Highlighting the lifeboat’s history and ongoing relevance, October 2016 will mark 100 years since the disaster which saw 13 out of 15 members of the crew failed to return home on the bar in a rescue mission off Prawle Point. Today the boat may be shinier and better equipped, the training fancier, and the safety measures more advanced, but one thing on the lifeboat remains the same – at its core are some very brave volunteers, and that’s what really makes it special.