Welcome from Richard Sullivan (Chairman RNLI Blackmore Vale Branch)
Welcome from Richard Sullivan (Chairman RNLI Blackmore Vale Branch) This year is our 12th Annual Michaelmas Fair, now one of the biggest and best events of its kind in the South West. Welcoming you all to Port Regis gives me the opportunity to make you aware of changes to the management and format of the Fair this year.
Dorrie Peat has retired after 11 years as Fair Organiser, much of the time with Nigel Best in close support. It is greatly to her credit that the Fair has grown from humble beginnings to be such a success over the last decade, and the source of significant funds, in excess of a quarter of a million pounds, to help the RNLI save lives at sea and on our beaches. Remember there is no government funding and this remarkable charity is funded entirely by the public.
In 2016, RNLI Lifeboats were launched 8,851 times, rescuing 8643 people and saving 431 lives (90 in the South West). Of increasing importance are the RNLI Lifeguards, who now patrol over 200 beaches in the UK. They helped over 20,000 people, many of them children, and saved 127 lives over the same period. These figures speak for themselves and make our fundraising efforts and the generous support we receive from the public in the Blackmore Vale so very worthwhile.
Over £70,000 of the money raised in 2013 and 2014 was donated to the building of the new Lifeboat Station at Swanage, opened earlier this year to accommodate their new Shannon Class Lifeboat (see front cover) The George Thomas Lacy. We retain close links with the Lifeboat at Swanage. If you are ever down there it is well worth a visit to see the new Lifeboat and Station.
We welcome Lucy Hall as the new Fair Organiser in her first year. Under her leadership, changes have been made to the structure of the Fair, with new attractions and a significant increase in the number of stalls to over one hundred.
Thank you for coming today. I do hope you will enjoy your visit and take this opportunity to buy your Christmas presents here. You will find some of the best stalls in the country, gathered in one place, and offering a wide range of goods, with many items you will not find on the High Street. Please remember that 10% of every purchase goes directly to the RNLI.
Port Regis and the RNLI Michaelmas Fair
Port Regis and the RNLI Michaelmas Fair Stephen Ilett, Headmaster of Port Regis, was delighted to be asked if he would once again allow the RNLI Michaelmas Fair to take place in the school grounds. This is the 11th year of the association between Port Regis and the local RNLI Blackmore Vale branch and the event organiser is very grateful to the school for providing the wonderful surroundings for this event and also for the help and support of all staff.
Mr Ilett says: “I joined Port Regis in 2015 and the RNLI Michaelmas Fair was already a fixture during our October half term break, and as supporters of the RNLI we are very pleased to continue to help the local branch to raise money for this great charity. Children from Port Regis have enjoyed many days out on the coast and having the RNLI on 24/7 standby is the safety net we are all grateful for.”
Swanage Lifeboat Station
Dave Turnbull is the Coxswain at Swanage Lifeboat Station and was very welcoming when I visited recently. It was great to meet someone whose dedication to saving lives at sea is obvious and who has been part of the Swanage Lifeboat service for 25 years.
I was given a fascinating guided tour of the new Shannon Class lifeboat, the George Thomas Lacy, which has an expected lifespan of 50 years – it is an amazing all-weather lifeboat and this one at Swanage is the only Shannon Class that is slipway launched at the moment. The lifeboat has a top speed of 25 knots and is powered by water jets. Amongst all of the amazing facts and figures I learned, another was that the lifeboat will automatically right itself in the event of a capsize.
Neil Hardy, the Lifeboat Operations Manager, talked about his being the third generation Hardy to be involved with the RNLI at Swanage and how this crew is only now having to think about active recruitment of voluntary crew which is largely due to the lack of industry in and around Swanage these days, meaning that many young people move away to find work. However, the Lifeboat Station is fully crewed at the moment, with 4 volunteers waiting to sign up.
Since the George Thomas Lacy was launched in April 2016, more than 70 rescues have taken place. With a modern ‘Systems and Information Management System’ set up on board, the crew is able to monitor all navigation, weather, machinery and radio from their seats. The £2,000,000 boat is absolutely ideal for keeping the voluntary crew safe as they venture out time and again to attend to emergency situations at sea.
I would thoroughly recommend that you go to www.swanagelifeboat.org.uk to learn more and if you are ever in the area, the boathouse is well worth a visit.
“It was a dark and stormy night ...”
“OK Bembridge, you are clear to launch.” With these words crackling over the VHF radio from Solent Coastguard, I realised that a rescue by the RNLI had been set in train and it ended a series of events that had started many hours before in perfect weather and calm seas. This then is a resume of that rescue.
I had been asked to crew a 26 foot yacht by a work colleague as his original crew was unable to sail that weekend in late May. The skipper was the owner of the yacht and was experienced, as was I and we had many Channel crossings in our log books. The weather was excellent as was the forecast and we departed the Solent to the east of the Isle of Wight having given our passage plan to Solent Coastguard.
We headed to France under full main and genoa in excellent conditions and as the sun was setting in the western sky, the skipper went below to prepare a meal. Very soon we were enjoying a curry. However, within a few minutes I was very unwell and had to pay a visit to the leeside of the yacht. This worried both of us as neither of us were prone to seasickness. After a while it was quite obvious that continuing the voyage was not an option for all the seamanship reasons. We informed Solent Coastguard of our intentions and they responded in their usual professional manner and asked to be kept informed having determined the exact details of my incapacity.
Despite my continued sickness I was able to navigate and plotted a course towards the Nab tower. However, the situation deteriorated very rapidly as is often the case.
It was now dark and the wind was increasing and we were just able to reduce sail. The skipper suggested that I should lie down for a while and I fell into a fitful sleep but was soon aware that the cabin was taking in water. I informed the skipper and he also then told me that the genoa had split. My reply that “……..we should not exclude the possibility of rescue” was well met and I updated Solent CG. Their response was the opening phrase of this article.
I was showing signs of both dehydration and the initial stages of hypothermia. Also by now the weather was very poor and a tanker on passage nearby informed the CG that he had a F9 over their deck and that they were making way to our position the provide a lee shelter for us. It is impossible to recall a timeline but we were soon in VHF contact with the lifeboat and after a DF transmission we heard the unmistakable and reassuring sound of 2 very powerful diesel engines. Almost simultaneously, the CG helicopter appeared overhead and illuminated the area and we saw for the first time the extent of the sea state.
The next events happened very quickly and is testament to the unbelievable courage and professionalism of the lifeboat crew. It had been decided earlier that I needed to be airlifted to hospital and the lifeboat manoeuvred into a position such that a crewman was able to leap aboard to effect a “highline” rescue. It soon became obvious that this was not possible and so the crewman wrapped me in 2 sleeping bags, secured me in the bunk and arranged a towline.
The next thing that I recall was going alongside in the Portsmouth area and being taken by ambulance to hospital where I spent the morning having tests. Apparently, I had displayed symptoms of a twisted bowel hence the urgency for my removal from the yacht. The real cause was not the curry, to the relief of the skipper, but food poisoning from a sandwich eaten just before boarding.
Both the lifeboat authorities and Solent CG were as puzzled as we were as to the arrival and extent of the bad weather as it had not appeared on any forecast. However, that is beside the point. The self-effacing and generous nature of the LB crew was the defining legacy for me as when I visited to thank them and tell them of my embarrassment their response was “………. you needed help and that is what we provide. ” Priceless.
We would like to say a big thank you to our sponsors, advertisers, supporters, volunteers and all of those that have given up their time for the 12th annual RNLI (Blackmore Vale Branch) Michaelmas Fair. We are grateful to Port Regis for their support and the loan of their school and beautiful grounds. Our stallholders will all very generously be donating 10% of their turnover for which we thank you. All of us look forward to welcoming all of you to the Michaelmas Fair!