John Fish B.Sc. Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)


Tenby Lifeboat

Circa 2000

Researching the Launching Records of the Tenby Lifeboat RFA Sir Galahad one is struck by the almost routine-like nature of most call-outs. For such is the dedication, expertise and efficiency of all Lifeboat crews and their shore helpers (those who man the Lifeboat Station to assist at launch and rehousing) that it is as if a well-rehearsed drama is taking place.

Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, at any time the maroons may be fired that signify the launch of the Tenby Lifeboat. Two maroons are launched high over Tenby town, accompanied by a loud explosion; dogs bark, seagulls take to the air and the inhabitants of Tenby wonder ... wonder where their Lifeboat is going and when it will return. In the day a puff of grey smoke marks the explosion, due to the speed of sound being slower than the speed of light the explosion is seen before it is heard; at night the explosion is marked by a bright flash. A single maroon means a call-out for Tenby's Her Majesty's Coastguard Cliff Rescue Team.

And so the majority of call-outs are: to assist a vessel in distress, perhaps engine or some other mechanical failure or even sinking; medical emergencies due to someone being taken seriously ill on Caldey Island or an injury to the crew of a trawler; a swimmer missing perhaps swept out to sea by treacherous currents; persons cut off by the tide and stranded on rocks or beaches soon to be engulfed by the incoming sea; a missing diver; surfers, windsurfers, jet skis, sailing dinghies or canoeists in difficulty; reports of red distress flares; yachts and motor cruisers missing or overdue.

Sometimes the Lifeboat is launched and the rescue mission cancelled when new information has been received by the Coastguard. But the sea takes no prisoners and at each call-out a life or lives is at stake. The sea with her unrivalled natural beauty can give life, can give food, work, entertainment, relaxation and enjoyment; can give death. And standing between the sea and her moods, between life and death, is the RNLI.

But then there are the rescues which catch the imagination for not only are the lives of the crew of a vessel, overcome by a storm and threatened by sinking or being run aground on a dangerous lee shore, at stake but the very lives of the Lifeboat crew. Accounts of rescues are based on Coxswain Alan Thomas' own words.

22nd September 1989: New Venture, Seeker and Silver Stream; fishing boats sheltering from storm; deteriorating visibility towards dusk, sea-state very rough, swell 8-9 metres, south-westerly 9. "We had just finished rehousing the RFA Sir Galahad from a call-out, and the crew had dispersed, when the Swansea Coastguard phoned Tenby Lifeboat Station. Three fishing boats from Ilfracombe were sheltering in Rhossili Bay, 16 miles away across Carmarthen Bay on the Gower Peninsula, but due to the southerly gale veering westerly were now in grave danger. I immediately fired the maroons and within minutes the crew had returned and the Lifeboat was launched ... Before we could reach the casualties Seeker had suffered engine failure and run aground, her crew were rescued by an RAF rescue helicopter from Chivenor ... An hour after launch we reached Rhossili and I ordered the crew out on deck with lifelines clipped to safety-rails, and steered from the duplicate controls on the centre-deck aft of the main cabin. As ten metre waves were plunging us chest deep in seawater we spied New Venture and Silver Stream through the spray under the cliffs of Worms' Head ... The trawlers were caught between the lee shore of the beach and the massive waves out to sea, attempting to keep their position within the bay by alternatively fighting their way out to sea then surfing back towards the beach. Then out to sea I saw an enormous wave ... It caught Silver Stream broadside on capsizing her but then as we approached her she rolled back. Her sole crew was trapped in the wheelhouse but managed to escape through a window and, as I held the RFA Sir Galahad in position, Roy Young and my brother Clive Thomas managed to haul him onboard. Our attention now turned to the New Venture and we were eventually able to shepherd them back home to Tenby."

Lifeboat crew: Coxswain Alan Thomas, Mechanic Charles Crockford, Clive Thomas, Roy Young, Denny Young, Steve Crockford, Bobby James. The RNLI awarded its Silver Medal and the Maud Smith Award to Coxswain Alan Thomas, with the rest of the crew all being awarded 'Letters of Thanks.' A painting of this rescue may be viewed at the Hope and Anchor Public House, Saint Julian's Street, Tenby.


Extract from A Tenby Lifeboat Family by Avis Nixon

Published at Tenby in the Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park (Wales, UK)

As a Star of Pembrokeshire Series Paperback