2011 has been a busy year for Portsmouth’s two RNLI lifeboats. The Atlantic 85 and D Class boats have been tasked to 104 services.
The shouts have been varied in their nature and each one has proved to be a different challenge to our crews.
But one of the highlights of this year was the acceptance of a new Atlantic 85 Inshore Lifeboat – In July a dedication service was held at the lifeboat station to officially welcome Norma T into service. Within 15 minutes of that service the boat was tasked to an operational service - Luckily the bunting had been removed and the crew had already had a piece of celebratory cake.
It would take far too long to detail all the shouts so this is a short detail of some of them:
It wasn’t quite a dark and stormy night in January but it was a cold, windy day when the lifeboat was tasked to a ten metre, 20 ton fishing boat with no power. There was a 4 metre breaking swell and high winds – in a joint effort with Bembridge All-Weather Lifeboat the fishing vessel was towed to safety.
And so the year had started. Solent Coastguard have called upon our crews expertise to search for missing persons, to go to the assistance of broken down vessels and to assist de-masted boats.
In March the Atlantic Lifeboat was tasked to the Round Tower where a woman was threatening to commit suicide by jumping into the sea. The crew waited for an hour and a half while police officers talked the woman down.
In October both boats were afloat for over 4 hours searching for a person in the sea. This service involved working as a team with other lifeboats, the Coastguard Helicopter and the MOD Police. Having responded to their pagers, the crew left on station joined the Coastguard in a shoreline search.
After one particularly difficult service the following letter was received:
“To everyone who looked after our dear son on 3 July who sadly later died that day. We would like to thank you. You gave us the time to love him and hold him in our arms, which was so precious.” Signed Mum. A very sad day.
The Solent is a very busy stretch of water and used by every type of craft you could think of. In fine weather it’s a lovely place to be, but weather can change quickly and it is very easy to become tired, wet and very cold. It is therefore inevitable that a number of shouts have been to jet skis and wind surfers.
A sandbank at the entrance to Langstone Harbour takes many people by surprise – various boats have been assisted when they have run aground – Dog walkers are also at risk of being cut off by an incoming tide and a number of people, have been assisted back to shore.
In June an inexperienced sailing crew managed to wedge themselves under a pontoon when they tangled their mooring lines and guard rail.
Having had a few drinks a man decided to swim out into the Solent from the Round Tower. He was fully clothed and carrying a rucksack. Needless to say a number of police officers were waiting for him when he was returned to shore.
Another stormy day saw the lifeboat arriving on scene within ten minutes and quickly establishing a tow on an 18 ton engine-less fishing vessel. It then took a further hour to battle the force 7 winds, sea swell and falling tide to navigate around Horse Sands Fort to reach the entrance of Portsmouth Harbour.
The lifeboat navigated the tow through the busy main channel, avoiding two passenger ferries and manoeuvring skilfully to a safe mooring. The five people on board thanked the RNLI volunteer crew with tea and biscuits before they returned to station.
A letter sent to the crew from a grateful Dad says:
“I would like to say many thanks to Portsmouth Lifeboat Crew. I went out with my 10 yr old son fishing in our dinghy. I realised the anchor was not holding and we were drifting out too far. I tried to row back but was making no headway. I called the coastguard and they informed me Portsmouth Lifeboat was on its way. My dinghy headed to a sandbank where it beached itself. I felt so stupid for putting my son in danger. The crew were brilliant, calmed me down and also took excellent care of my son. Some very good advice was taken and will never be forgotten. This was probably a very routine rescue for the crew but I can’t tell you how grateful I am they were there for me and my son.”
There are so many people who make Saving Lives at Sea possible and hopefully our seaside pastimes safer. Our Sea Safety Officers will always give good advice to sailors on how to avoid getting into trouble in the first place. Our Education volunteers visit schools and youth groups – talking to thousands of children every year. The station hosts visits from groups all year. Our fundraisers toil endlessly to keep the vital funds arriving. People arrange events on our behalf, not least of all our very successful open day and a yearly Santa Run – which annually sees a sea of Santas running along the seafront.
The first RNLI Portsmouth Lifeboat station was at Southsea in 1886 – when the boat was powered by strong arms and sheer determination and bravery. We may have moved to Eastney and our boats may now have high powered engines but the rest still holds fast for today. Portsmouth is the 10th busiest lifeboat station.
Our station is manned by volunteer crew. Their pagers can go off at any time, night or day – More often than not just as dinner goes on the table. A shout can be long duration, cold, wet, windy – the boats bounce hard in rough weather – but still they go and we can all be thankful.
When the shout is over they go back to their day job, their cold dinner or even to bed - sometimes without even a thankyou.
Written by Jacqui Hutchins,
Portsmouth Lifeboat Station Administrator and DLA.