When Clovelly Gig Club, which has operated out of the North Devon fishing village since 2001, took to the water on Monday evening, the thick layer of fog that had carpeted the Bristol channel for much of the day had just begun to lift. But as the rowers headed out of the harbour on board the Leah C, a different kind of challenge presented itself: the familiar beeping of an RNLI crew pager.
Back on shore, Falmouth Coastguard had received a distress call from a lone yachtsman in difficulty out in Bideford Bay. Having grown disorientated in the fog, he was unsure of his location and had requested assistance. But when the pagers went off to alert Clovelly RNLI to the situation, helmsman Neil Wonnacott was still out on the water on the Leah C.
Fortunately, the rowers of Clovelly Pilot Gig Club rose to the occasion, manning the oars and racing back to the slipway so that Neil could take the helm of the lifeboat and join the rest of the crew heading out to rescue the ailing yacht.
He wasn’t the only person making a swift dash to shore. Having already been out in the Leah C, crew member Mitchell Currington was taking a dip in the bay when the pagers sounded, prompting him to turn around and swim back to the station in order to assist with the launch.
Just nine minutes later, Clovelly’s in-shore lifeboat the Toby Rundle launched in search of the stricken vessel, eventually locating it off Rock’s Nose near Abbotsham. By the time that the volunteers arrived on scene, Appledore’s all weather lifeboat had also been tasked, but the decision was ultimately made to escort the casualty back to Clovelly harbour. With two crew members on board, the vessel made it safely to an anchorage where it was secured.
‘Clovelly Pilot Gig Club has always had a close relationship with Clovelly RNLI, with several of our members also serving as crew,’ John Keeble, the club’s coxswain, explained.
‘But it was really exciting to get to be part of a shout. Knowing that a life was potentially in danger made everyone work really hard to get the boat back to shore as quickly as possible, and it was certainly an occasion that we won’t forget in a hurry.’
The waters around Clovelly are popular with sailors all year round, and Clovelly’s volunteers have been called out several times this year to assist yachtsmen in distress. If you’re planning on setting sail, the charity advises you to wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid at all times and to ensure that everyone on board knows how to call for help.