Skegness’ new RNLI lifboat the Joel and April Grunnill will be officially be named on Saturday. In the week before a new era for the brave crew and volunteers begins, the Standard pays tribute to Ray Chapman - the coxwain who recently retired with the old lifeboat, the Lincolnshire Poacher:
A special tribute from the RNLI praises former coxwain Ray Chapman for his ‘selflessness, skill and courage which form the bedrock of our charity’s lifesaving ethos’.
Alison Levett, the spokesman for the north, was speaking on behalf of the RNLI and said: “Ray has dedicated 46 years of his life to the RNLI. Lifeboating is in Ray’s blood.
“He is one of the UK’s longest-serving and most experienced volunteer lifeboat crew members and I know he will be greatly missed by the crew and wider RNLI community at Skegness, where his passion and commitment to the RNLI have been an inspiration.
“His knowledge of the local coast and boat handling skills are exemplary, but as well as helping to save many lives during lifeboat launches, Ray has helped hundreds if not thousands more through the sea safety talks he has given and the enthusiasm he has shown for fundraising.
“I was delighted when Ray received an MBE last year and can’t think of anyone more deserving of that honour.
Retiring at the same time as the Lincolnshire Poacher just seemed the right thing to doFormer Skegness Coxwain Ray Chapman
“He has been such a stalwart volunteer and a wonderful ambassador for our charity. On behalf of everyone at the RNLI, I want to thank him for his amazing commitment to saving lives, and wish him all the very best for his retirement.”
The Standard caught up with Mr Chapman and asked him how he is enjoying his retirement:
RAY HANGS UP HIS RNLI LIFEJACKET AFTER 46 YEARS
One of the longest serving RNLI volunteers in the UK sat sipping coffee in Skegness, wondering how he would adjust to a life where the Lifeboat Station was no longer the centre of his world.
Ray Chapman had had sea in his blood for 46 years when he officially stepped down as coxwain last week - an early retirement brought about following a heart operation.
At 62, he still has a demanding day job as contracts manager at Blue Anchor Leisure Ltd in Ingoldmells. But how will a hero of our Lincolnshire coast fill the rest of his time when he is not spending every waking minute listening for the lifeboat maroon?
We met at the Storehouse and reflected on a career that anyone should be proud of, including being awarded the MBE by the Queen – and that final ‘shout’ taking the Lincolnshire Poacher lifeboat he had served on for 27 years on its final journey to Grimsby before it became part of the relief fleet at RNLI headquarters in Poole.
It seemed right, Ray said, that they should retire together.
Ray said: “I was on the Lincolnshire Poacher when it was brought to Skegness. My dad, Ron, was coxwain and it took us a week to fetch it. I can remember us mooring overnight in Boston and arriving in Skegness with a flotilla of local boats.
“There really were thousands of people on the beach that day. It was a different time.”
Inspired by his father – a station chairman and former Skegness lifeboat coxswain who died last year after 37 years service to the RNLI – Ray became an RNLI volunteer when he was a student at Skegness Grammar School.
He said: “If the maroon went they used to let me out of classes. That’s probably why I never did well at school.
“In my teens I was involved with water safety demonstrations with the Inshore Rescue Boat (IRB) in the 110 yards long pool where myself, Paul Strzelecki and Tony Burrows would dive in and our dads would rescue us with the little boat.
“I would turn up for maroons before I was 16 but signed up on my 16th birthday.”
One of his most memorable shouts was in 2006 when Skegness Lifeboat assisted the Humber Lifeboat in an 11-hour rescue mission to save a stricken yacht in force nine gales in the North Sea. Ray said: “The Mollie Louise got into difficulty 28 miles off Spurn Point as she headed from Holland to Grimsby.
“Four crew were washed overboard and one life was lost.”
Among the numerous other rescues were many involving inflatables. Ray said: “I can remember doing a rescue at Ingoldmells and then getting a call to Chapel St Leonards. We didn’t have room for the airbeds so left them. But when we returned the children to their parents they wanted money for the airbeds!”
There are many highlights of his career - carrying the RNLI flag in St Paul’s Cathedral, representing the RNLI when Prince Charles visited RAF Waddington and getting to speak to him, attending a garden party at Buckingham Palace, being coxwain on a lifeboat down Pall Mall for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and, of course, receiving the MBE from the Queen for services to Skegness Lifeboat.
But Ray said what he is missing most now as he starts his retirement is the relationship he had with the other RNLI volunteers.
He said: “The best thing about lifeboating is the camaraderie, teamwork and the lifelong friendships that you make – saving life is a bonus.”
The focus of his new life will now be his wife, April, and making up for the years he has never wanted to be too far away from the lifeboat station in case there was a ‘shout’.
Ray said: “April has never known me without a boat so it’s different for her too. But the heart operation was a wake-up call because you never know what the future holds and I want to spend some quality time with her.
”Retiring at the same time as the Lincolnshire Poacher just seemed the right thing to do.”
There is one important ‘shout’ left for Ray. He will be back at the Lifeboat Station on Saturday (April 1) for the naming of the new Skegness Lifeboat, the Joel and April Grunnill, with his wife and the other important woman in his life, his mum Audrey Chapman.