The North Sea is not a good place to be stranded but rescues cost serious money and Scarborough lifeboat is running an appeal for new equipment. MATT CLARK discovers why.
EVEN on a warm summer's evening it's surprisingly chilly out at sea; blowy too – and choppy. Holidaymakers on the beach may be soaking up the last rays of sun, but onboard the Scarborough lifeboat it feels more like winter.
We're wrapped up as if it was and with good reason. Fall into the sea even in August and hypothermia could get you in as little as an hour.
Speed is of the essence, which is why we're on a skills-honing exercise aboard the all-weather Mersey Class, Fanny Victoria Wilkinson and Frank Stubbs.
The crew dart around, making everything look simple; it’s anything but. 'One hand for the boat' comes the advice, meaning always hold a grab rail, I don't need telling twice and this is what they call calm conditions. How on earth do you cope in a gale, I ask. They just do.
Everyone is a volunteer and all have seen action, often in the cold small hours. Coxswain Tom Clark has been with the Scarborough boat for 30 years and some of his stories would be rejected by reality TV producers for being too far-fetched.
"It's not scary all the time," Tom says. "When I was a lad I looked up to these guys and I wanted to do it. I've since put a lot of weather away with this boat."
Indeed he has. At 2am on a snowy January morning, if the pager goes off Tom and his crew will be out of bed and at sea within minutes. They ask for nothing in return, nothing apart from good kit .
Dave Horsley, station mechanic and deputy second Cox, says the Mersey Class was designed with a 25-year lifespan which means Fanny and Frank are due to be pensioned off in 2016.
The replacement will be a water jet powered Shannon class, the newest member of the lifeboat fleet. But there is a small matter of finding the money.
All RNLI income is from public donations, fortunately Scarborough's new boat and its associated station will be paid for by legacies. However, the Shannon class is designed to be launched and recovered in shallow water by a specialist machine, called Supacat. It costs £1.5 million and although most has been accounted for, there was a shortfall of £200,000. So last year Scarborough's volunteers set up an appeal.
This month it reached the half way mark.
"It's very exciting and just the boost we need," says Hannah Jackson, the RNLI community fundraising manager. "The support from the public has been fantastic and we've now given ourselves a target to raise the rest by the end of the year."
It's imperative they do because without Supacat the lifeboat will be beached. Luckily there is a huge amount of goodwill towards this crew and they garner admiring glances from crowds whenever the boat is launched.
But that big heartedness needs to be translated into hard cash. With no AA or RAC at sea, if it wasn't for these men there would be no rescue service out there at all.
Each of them will tell you the best kit is needed to help save lives, but when you consider the conditions they endure and the risks they are prepared to take, it also needs to be the best for crew safety.
Which was a key priority in the Shannon's development. Tom says it's also half as fast again and the most manoeuvrable all-weather lifeboat to date.
"The first boat I was on was wooden," he says. "The difference between that and the Mersey Class was huge and this is the same leap again.
"Supacat is an essential part of the RNLI’s lifesaving jigsaw. We know this is a lot of money to raise, but we’re really hoping the people of Yorkshire will get behind the appeal."
You certainly would if you saw Tom's men in action, because it's a truly humbling experience. The least we can do is put our hands in our pockets and make sure they can operate the safest boat on the market.
You can donate £5 to the Supacat appeal by texting RNLI SCARBOROUGH to 70300 or calling 0845 122 6999.
If you have any fundraising ideas contact Hannah Jackson, RNLI Community Fundraising Manager at Hannah_jackson@rnli.org.uk
THE Royal National Lifeboat Institution provides a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland from 236 lifeboat stations.
Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 180 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.
The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services.
Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95 per cent of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in the charity's museums, shops and offices.
Scarborough is the third oldest lifeboat station in Britain. Its crews have saved 538 lives and 17 medals have been awarded: 13 Silver and four Bronze. The service began in 1801 after £212,1s 6d had been raised by residents. The first boat cost £129, 5 shillings, plus an additional £17, 17 shillings for the cork to keep it afloat. The new Shannon will cost £2 million.