It’s Bude Lifeboat Day today, and the weather is not playing its part. Last year’s event was a beautiful day. But, hopefully, the people of Bude will not care about the weather and will turn out in force, as normal, to support the cause, and the tourists will also be glad of something to do! So, what is the RNLI and why are the lifeboat crews so important to Bude? Well, it’s pretty simple. Stand on the beach, watch the waves, and the people and you can see where the problem might begin.
In Bude, the RNLI is situated at Summerleaze. The dedicated crew train weekly on Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings ready for their next ‘shout’. Each time the boat goes out, it also requires cleaning, so the crew work with military precision to do the training and maintenance essentials properly, but also seem to enjoy a great camaraderie.
The crew averages 12-13 shouts a year a year, which may not seem much, but is if you’re the person needing rescuing. Some of the shouts are more straightforward than others, but some are very tricky, complex and dangerous. Hence, the need for all that regular commitment and training.
When I met the crew last year, they felt that the presence of the lifeguards at the beaches had dramatically reduced the number of call outs, so this development is of great benefit to local people and tourists. Certainly heard the lifeguards in action yesterday at Summerleaze, where they were advising on safe swimming and boarding, and the avoidance of strong currents as the tide went out. But, sailors and others can get into difficulty, so Bude RNLI crews are always awaiting ‘the shout’. It’s what their continual training is for. The RNLI lifeguards have a rescue water craft to use but this is also made available to the crew from 6pm -10am – or constantly in winter – for appropriate rescues.
Their normal craft is called the Henry Philip and the work it does varies from rescuing people trapped on rocks, and surfers caught in rip tides, to dogs stuck on cliffs. A larger, all-weather boat wouldn’t cope with the coastline around Bude as the crew has to launch into the surf and be able to get into gullies, so for problems further out, for example, relating to large fishing vessels, they rely on the Padstow lifeboat.
Each boat has a helmsman, or for all-weather vessels, a coxswain. The helmsman is responsible for the safety of the crew, and the decision-maker during difficult moments, he also co-ordinates any rescue. Helmsmen receive additional training at RNLI headquarters in Pool. The boat travels at 25 knots max speed, and uses GPS (satnav, or global positioning system) which helps them to position other craft which may be in difficulty. The whole operation is co-ordinated by the Falmouth coastguard, and the crew are required to report in every 15 minutes when out at sea, for safety’s sake.
Back in August, 2004, the Bude crew helped out with the Boscastle floods, mainly to check for cars being carried out to sea and ensuring no one was inside them.
Now, the retirement age for a crew member is officially 45 though, depending on fitness, some crew can stay on active service to 50, so the RNLI was – and probably still is – struggling to find replacement crew members. Men and women can apply but you need to be pretty physically strong to stay in the boat when riding into the surf. Some women do the essential shore-based work. All crew members are trained to the same standard with additional training for specialists. The guys come from all walks of life: builders, plumbers, police, teachers, electricians. Interestingly, only 10% of lifeboat crews come from a nautical background whereas, in the past, it was a natural activity for fishermen.
The RNLI shop is also kept pretty busy at Bude and offers a wide range of excellent items including very reasonably priced tee-shirts. The fund-raising is much needed. Every inshore lifeboat crew member wears a dry suit to keep them warm (it does quickly get chilly out at sea, as I noticed sitting in the tractor). Under the dry suit is what Lisa Tame, their volunteer press officer, calls a ‘ fetching fleecy bunny suit’, a thermal suit to trap warm air. There is also the life jacket, helmet, gloves and steel toe cap boots for each crew member, all of which come at a cost but are essential for the work the RNLI crew do. This year’s fund raising is for ‘Lifejackets for Lifesavers’.
What motivates people to put their own lives at risk saving others? Well, it seems that generally the crew like giving something back to the town of Bude. Many of them are surfers, so have an affinity with the sea, but also there is a good RNLI community with a social side to the work.
Chris Cloke who joined the Bude crew in 1966, and now staffs the control room at Bude says: “If you’re keen, come and try it out and meet the crew. You train from the basics up and it takes a year before you can go out on a call. If the boat isn’t your thing but you’d like to help fund-raise, then contact the shop or Paul Finn, the local solicitor, on the Strand and see what you can do. And if all that is too much commitment, then just go along to some of the fund-raising events”. Today is your chance to do exactly that!!