We joined the RNLI team in Skegness for training ahead of their next recruitment drive......
It’s just after 8am and one of the latest volunteers for the RNLI in Skegness is already kitted out and ready to help.
Most teenagers are still in bed at that time on a Sunday morning but this 18-year-old is determined to show willing.
“They’re watching me,” he said. “I need to show them I will show up for training and really want this.”
Word had been getting around on social media that there would be a training operation that morning - something that happens every two weeks to make sure the state-of-the-art Joel and April Grunnill Shannon Class all-weather lifeboat and the D-class inshore lifeboat and the volunteer crew are ready for the next shout.
With just weeks before their next recruitment drive, I went along to see just what it’s like to serve on the £2m Shannon class lifeboat I had stood and watched arrive at the resort with hundreds of onlookers just over a year ago.
The day’s forecast was for high winds and so, I was relieved to see that the sea looked calm when I arrived at the Lifeboat Station in Tower Esplanade.
Coxwain Richard Watson gave a briefing on the training. “Unfortunately, the Coastguard helicopter was on a call this morning so won’t be with us,” he said. “We’ll be running through some navigation and mechanics stuff, heading down towards the ‘Freeman’ and out to Hunstanton. Inshore crew, keep a watch out for the weather. If the wind gets up we’ll have to decide whether to come ashore.”
Not good news for someone who had no idea if I would get seasick. I focused on the words I’d been told when the lifeboat first arrived: “She cuts through the water like butter.”
Volunteer Michelle Collins - who most people know as a PCSO in Skegness - sorted me out with a dry suit. “They’re huge,” she said, “But it’ll keep you warm.”
Once strapped into the heavy lifejacket, I was ready to go aboard and was quickly shown my seat at the back of the lifeboat.
As the Standard went ‘live’ on Facebook while the lifeboat was being towed across the beach, the crew quickly took up their positions in front of a number of screens for the launch.
Adam Holmes on the radar was in touch with Humber Coastguard reporting ‘there were eight souls on board including a member of the Press’. Second coxswain Gavin Abbott would be at the helm along with the coxswain, mechanic Craig Willard instructing Ned Kelly, were making sure the lifeboat was running smoothly, and Dean Sumner was training in navigation with Tony Kelly, deputy second coxswain.
Ned told me he had been on the crew for 12 years and was enjoying the new lifeboat. “It’s like comparing a space shuttle with a plane - this one is twice the speed of the last one. It’s mind-blowing.”
Mechanic Craig agreed: “It’s been a big learning curve for all of us.”
There was just time for Gavin to give me the lowdown on my lifejacket and how to operate it should I end up overboard, before the engines roared and we were away.
I was told the seats in the new lifeboat had suspension and it came as quite a surprise when Adam reported over the intercom we were already six miles out. As we sailed past the windfarm, viewers were watching our Facebook ‘Live’ broadcast sending comments of support to the crew.
Among them Steve Goffin said: “Worth their weight in gold. Do a brave and excellent job. Keep up the good work guys, but most of all stay safe.”
There was also surprise about the size of the inside of the lifeboat. Samantha Musgrove commented: “Oh wow, looks so tiny in there.”
The B-Class ‘Atlantic’ lifeboat from Hunstanton was spotted on the radar and so a decision was made to take a diversion and meet them. Adam explained: “She was out on exercise and was spotted on the radar, so we changed course for a quick exchange of hellos and then carried on with our own thing. Lots of crews exercise on a Sunday.”
There was concern I might be getting too warm - one of the symptons that could result in me feeling queasy. I had avoided removing my jacket for as long as possible, as it would involve unstrapping the lifejacket and getting off the seat in what was now much choppier seas - but it wasn’t long before I had to submit.
“Would you like some water?” I was asked as I returned to the seat - you need to stay hydrated.” I accepted a bottle of water - one of a stash generously supplied with other provisions by Tesco to support the crew on shouts.
The lifeboat began to rock in the stationary position as the crew exchanged hellos with Hunstanton - and then we were heading back to Skegness.
Then it hit me. You never want to say ‘sorry, I think I need fresh air’, especially when you discover training costs per year for each of the volunteer crew is £1,527 – even when they tell you ‘we’ve all been there’.
Out on the deck, held securely by the back of my lifejacket by Tony and Dean, I soon felt better. As waves lashed high up at the side of the boat, it was a real glimpse of how conditions at sea can change so quickly.
* Continued in Wednesday’s Skegness Standard.
HOW YOU CAN JOIN THE RNLI
Without the hard work of volunteer fundraisers Skegness would be unable to run its lifeboats.
Each all-weather lifeboat station costs about £210,000 a year to run.
A recruitment day is being held on Sunday, April 15 from 10.30am for volunteer crew.
It will be open to all who are interested in becoming shore crew, fundraising volunteers, and sea-going crew.
The minimum age for crew is 17 and the upper age limit is 55 for the inshore, and 65 for the all-weather lifeboat.