Friday, 30 November 2007

Old habits and boxing glove hands

Tonight we went straight into a whole load of scenarios based upon various 'illnesses'. Like seasoned pros we went straight into them, feet first, and began to try diagnosing what was wrong from the symptoms. Not surprisingly we faltered and stumbled and tripped every step of the way. Paul coined a phrase; we were struggling with 'boxing glove hands'.To begin, Skid was ill, he makes a good patient 'cause he has a natural tendency to look poorly!I got to pretend to be a 'bent diver' (that is, a diver with the bends). I was only allowed to breath once every 13 seconds.Then John acted out a Diabetic who was Hypo. And very convincing he was too (think drunk and randomly aggressive), a bit of type casting perhaps?

After a few more faltering scenarios we stopped and examined what was going right and what was going wrong. And the verdict? Well, we hadn't killed anyone but we were not doing what we had been taught. We were forgetting the assessment and trying to diagnose rather than treating the symptoms. So we had a sharp reminder to stick with the assessment no matter what. Guess what? It all started to work again. Great!Nick and I then got the pleasure of Matt after a stroke. We stuck to our assessment and it worked. We treated the symptoms and ultimately figured out what was the matter with him. Very satisfying.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

One of the problems........

Of being a teacher is that it makes you incredibly intolerant of poorly designed courses and less than perfect teaching. Nothing makes me more cross than giving up my time (which, granted, is not particularly precious) and then having to suffer inappropriate course content or bad teaching. It makes me cross.

So our current fist aid course is like a breath of fresh air. You see, despite the fact that I am pretty tired by the time I get home at 18.45 due to marking exam papers, writing end of term reports and all the other Christmas stuff that goes on at school. I'm still really keen to get down there and do the next bit. And I'm not alone. In fact, all the crew are talking about it. It's practical, at our level and entirely suited to what we face on a shout. The right stuff!Tonight we spent some time playing with our stretchers. Learning how to use them in a variety of situations. And it was kinesthetic......we learnt by doing. Steve got trussed up in a 'Neil Robinson' stretcher. I think a few of the lads got some perverse pleasure from this?Becky meanwhile became a basket case in our orange basket stretcher. Matt was the unfortunate one who got to slip in the 'Ambulance Pouch' (Normally the preserve of Dogs, Deers, Deceased and the very large).Paul then threw a whole load of very realistic scenarios at us in the boathouse and on the beach. And do you know what? We coped with them remarkably well despite this only being day 3 of the course.lastly, after a discussion of various illnesses, we took the first assessment of the course. I'm glad too. Somehow it lent an aura of rigour to what we have been doing. Indeed, judging by the results of this pretty tricky test, we have done well. Lets hope it continues.

Nearly forgot. It finished on time too!

Launch stats for 2007

Number of launches this year:

Both boats 14
D Class 16
Mersey 11
Total 41

Launches to casualty types:
Canoe/Kayak 0
Climber 6
Commercial Vessel 0
Dinghy 4
Diver/Dive boat 1
Jet Ski 0
Medivac 3
Miscellaneous 7
Missing person 2
Motor boat 4
Rambler/Walker 2
Swimmer 1
Windsurfer 2
Yacht 9

(Miscellaneous this year was mostly made up of animals, plus one domestic incident!)

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


Tonight was our AGM. We have this every year. Obviously. In many ways it seems like the same year being repeated a number of times. You see, the same thing happens, again and again and again and again. Robin (our Chairman) stands and gives his speech. It's the same speech each year. Of course he changes the names and the numbers. But believe me, it's the same speech. Anne (Robin's wife and chairperson of the Guild) does the same. As does Neil Hardy (when he comes) and Martin. And us? Well, we sit and sip our pints and clap and laugh politely when required to.But of course, there is always a highlight. Each year we have someone from Headquarters along to fill us in on the latest initiative. This year we had the real pleasure of meeting Tamsin Thomas. She works in the Divisional base and takes charge of the Media and Public Relations (I think). She gave us a great talk about her work, and very interesting it was too.

I did have my suspicions though that she doesn't really approve of blogging. She mentioned 'Citizen Journalism' once and I don't think it was complimentary! I guess it's a bit of a worry for folk who are trying to put out a corporate message that there are idiots like me spouting out about whatever takes their fancy.Of course the real highlight of the evening was to watch our former crewmember Terry Pond receive his framed certificate of service. Terry has been on the crew for over 22 years but sadly suffered a stroke a year ago and has had to retire. He was an awesome character and in many ways formed the backbone of the crew. His certificate said it all:

Terence Frederick Pond
Served as a Helmsman and Crewmember of the Swanage Lifeboats
For 22 years and 4 months, during which period
the lifeboats rescued 248 lives from Shipwreck.
The council are glad to place this testimony
to his personal participation in the Lifeboat Service.


Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Gucci new kit

One advantage of us needing to do a 1st Aid refresher course every 3 years is that it provides a convenient moment in time to introduce new kit and new ideas to a station. Paul Savage is full of new ideas and tonight produced a whole load of exciting new shiny toys for us to play with. And that's precisely what we did for the best part of 3 hours. We took each bit of kit and tried it to see what it felt like to use, find out how it worked and whether we liked it. In the photo is a new style oxygen bottle. It's made out of spun carbon fibre so is way lighter than the old ones. It also has simpler, lifeboat crew proof dials. There is a new pump thing for sucking fluid and vomit out of a casualties' airway and a new bag and mask. All well received and I would say a significant improvement over the old kit.

We finished the session with some scenarios based on what we've learnt so far. Working in pairs we found that our recent training gave us much confidence. On the whole the failings were small and relatively insignificant. By relying on the basic assessments we sorted the 'Big' from the 'Little' sick and, had it been for real, I would like to think we could have saved a few.

Overall? Another memorable session. 15 minutes over time but certainly caused by our enthusiasm, not Paul's tardiness. Great stuff!

Monday, 26 November 2007

Big Sick - Little Sick

It turns out that we are guinea-pigs again.........

Paul Savage, the RNLI trainer who is conducting our first-aid course, has spent the last 12 months re-writing the RNLI training handbook for first-aid. If tonight's session is anything to go on he has done a great job. Without doubt it was the most interesting and knowledge enriching (does that make sense?) course I have ever undertaken. I like it because he has thrown out the old textbook stuff and boiled it down to first principles. No longer does he want us to try and diagnose things, he doesn't want us to worry about the injury too much (at least not in the first assessment). What he is asking us to do is look at the symptoms and decide whether someone is 'Big Sick' or 'Little Sick'. Simple! 'Big Sick' = gonna die soon of no oxygen or no circulation. 'Little Sick' = not gonna die.........just yet. And then simply do whatever we can to prevent that death or prevent things from getting too much worse!

I am very much looking forwards to tomorrow evening's instalment. And yes, before you ask, it not only finished on time but in fact about 5 minutes early. Nice one!

Essential equipment part v

Searching is a fairly intense and often fruitless thing to do. With a crew of seven on the boat we will always have the helmsman searching and probably two others dedicated to the search. We will then rotate crew every 15 minutes or so so that no one crewmember gets too tired. Equally, after this sort of period of time a person's effectiveness as a searcher is vastly diminished, particularly when it is cold, wet, windy and rough. To help us in our search we have three search lights, one fixed on the foredeck and two which can be mounted either side of the upper steering position. They are incredibly effective and if used correctly they can enormously increase the chance of spotting a casualty in the water by night.

On another subject, tonight our crew begins it's 1st Aid refresher course. Paul Savage, one of the instructors from Poole Headquarters, will be coming over each evening this week and next and delivering a highly anticipated course to the crew. We will do this in two halves, some in the late afternoon. And those of us with proper jobs from 7 to 9.30 in the evening! It is never ideal to be on the receiving end of training at this time of night but then there is no other way to fit it in. Luckily Paul is adept at managing his pupil's enthusiasm and energy levels, so I have no doubt there will be plenty of 'war stories'. The key to these things of course is finishing on time. I have no doubt Paul will do this (hint, hint)!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Whitstable Lifeboat Capsize

This is old footage but gives some idea of how nasty a capsize can be. Very shortly afterwards both the boat and all 3 crew were washed up ashore. No time at all for the righting and re-starting of the engines.

Apparently this was not a result of crew error. The boat launched into ferocious conditions with particularly steep waves. Because all of the weight in the boat is at the back (engines), when it takes off from a wave it will immediately pendulum with the bow as the centre of rotation. Thus the boat has a tendency to take off then become more vertical in flight (you can see this happen in the clip)! Two ways to counteract this are to either keep the boat stuck to the water or fill a bow tank with water ballast. I understand that at this time it was routine to launch with an empty tank and fill it as required. I believe that since this incident Atlantic class boats now launch with their bow ballast tanks full as a matter of routine. I'm sure Dave or John can clarify this.........

Taken from the Whitstable Lifeboat website:
On Sunday 3rd January 1999, the Atlantic 21 class lifeboat "British Diver" launched to assist a number of angling dinghies off Herne Bay, which had been caught out by a sudden deterioration in the weather. The lifeboat was under the command of Helmsman Mike Judge, with crew members Paul Kemp and Andy Williams.

About 100 yards after leaving the carriage, the lifeboat encountered a series of steep breaking waves, the last of which capsized the boat bow over stern. The righting bag was deployed, but the boat was washed ashore to the east of the harbour before the crew had a chance to reboard. None of the crew was badly hurt, and the angling dinghies were eventually assisted by the Sheerness Lifeboat.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Our thoughts

Our thoughts today are with the family of three adults who died yesterday when their cabin cruiser capsized on the way out of Whitby harbour. And also with the crew of Whitby lifeboat who had to launch into 'Atrocious conditions' to effect a rescue. They recovered the casualties but all three have since died. Very sad.

Whitby lifeboat crew have a long tradition of facing ferocious weather and yesterday was no exception, 5 metre breaking waves in the harbour mouth are challenging to say the least. Glen, their mechanic, describes it here.

Friday, 23 November 2007


One of the particularly enjoyable parts of blogging is receiving comments from people. I know that many people read this daily but sometimes it can be rather like working in a talk lots but get no response! So I was delighted last night to get a comment from the legendary Dr Douglas Wilcox; sea kayaking photography guru. He had read the post about capsizing 'D' class lifeboats and had a few questions. I'll try to answer them:

Douglas noted that capsizing at night sounds horrendous. I wouldn't know, I've never done it, and hope it never happens, but he's quite probably right. It's pretty disorientating to be under a capsized boat by day, I can only imagine it would be worse at night. The already small space between the upturned hull and the sea becomes more confined as the padded mat falls from the floor onto your heads. You struggle to find the handheld, flares and rope in the dark confined space. Yep, I think you're spot on Douglas...........horrendous by night! Incidentally, in the new wave pool at the training college in Poole, crews can practise this in a simulated environment which has darkness, waves, thunder, lightening, wind, rain and cold. It's so realistic that many people get seriously sea-sick in there. Wenley has posted a 'youtube' film on his blog which gives you an idea of what this might be like, have a look here.

Douglas also asked about the procedure for restarting the engine. To be honest it is surprisingly reliable and simple, just time consuming. The system is different for the old 40hp mariner engines on 'D'class boats and the 50 hp on the new IB1s.

On the older 40hp the instructions are on the inside of the engine lid, they read: Step 1, remove lid! There then follows a sequence (which I can't remember) involving removing the plugs, pulling the engine over by hand, replacing the plugs with new ones, pulling it over some more, then trying to re-start it. Generally it works.

On the IB1 the 50 hp is fitted with a 'PIRS' (post inversion recovery system), this simplifies things. Again, I honestly don't remember the system but think it involves pulling out a lever, removing the fuel lead, turning it over (using battery) for a while, replacing fuel lead and trying to start it. This always works. I can't remember if the plugs need replacing but I suspect they might.

As for Douglas's question about how many capsize, I'm afraid I don't know but I will try to find out. I suspect that it is not that many as there is an upper operating limit for the 'D'class. I also have a feeling that as many happen in training as on shouts. I would imagine that most happen in surf and not in horrendous rough weather. I will try to clear this one up............

I guessed that Dave our mechanic might have read this and had something to add, he's now done this so for extra details read the comments below. He's right too, it's a long time now since I've been in our IB1, I will find an opportunity to rectify this soon.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


We exercised last night on both boats. On the ALB we had a mixture of old hands, experienced and COBT competent crew, and then some probationers/new crew. So despite the less than perfect weather, we used the fully competent crew (Dan and James Mack) to train the probationers in their still to be completed tasks (anchoring and using the drogue). Although the sea conditions were moderate, it was cold, very wet, there was also hail and lightning.Photography is never easy on a rapidly moving boat at night but I liked this photo. Somehow it shows the blur of activity that was going on. This is in fact Dan, James, Ant and Nick preparing the anchor for deployment.Ant and Nick both rigged the anchor, deployed it, then used the capstan to heave it in.........this looks easier than it actually is on a pitching deck.During this evolution a squall passed through bringing with it a flurry of hail. Look closely and you can just see this on the deck.And then of course we retired to the anchor. As usual they provided large bowls of chips, a surfeit of Ringwood and in the corner John Deas held court as usual in his own quiet and unassuming way.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Not something we wish to see in anger

IB1 or the 'D' class lifeboat is the only lifeboat in the RNLI fleet (except the Thames boats and hovercrafts) which is not self-righting. This means if the worst happens, as it sometimes does, and it capsizes, the only way to get it back upright is 'handraulically'.During lifeboat week this year we had one of the old retired 'D' class boats from headquarters. It's job in life now is to serve as a practise boat to be taken to stations around the coast so that ILB crews can practise their capsize recoveries. And to be honest it's pretty simple.Swim out from under the boat. Check every one is there. Climb onto the upturned hull.Free the painter. Tie it off at the stern. Hold on tight and lean back.If it all goes according to plan (and especially if Tom is onboard) it will all be shipshape and the right way up in a matter of moments. Of course you are now the right way up, with no power and the brother of the nasty wave which capsized you is heading your way! It's now going to take about 5 minutes to purge the engine of water and get it started again......time to get the sea anchor and oars out (of course you can't really paddle the boat with the oars but they do a fine job of keeping the bow to the sea).

Thanks to Mark Savage for the photos

Sunday, 18 November 2007

November Rain

Well, once again the weather has come in and is proper Lifeboat weather. Though yesterday was pleasant enough for a brief paddle in the kayak, today has been evil; lots of wind and a surfeit of rain.Nevertheless, the bay looked awesome in a wintry sort of way and there was plenty of surf so a hardcore of intrepid surfers ventured out.
So never mind the darkness
We still can find a way
'Cause nothin' lasts forever
Even cold November rain

(Guns and Roses)

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Unlike any politician I've ever heard of

I'm going to admit that I was wrong. Despite my dedication to detail I had completely failed to notice that the MCA has swapped 'our' helo (WB) with the one from Lee on Solent (IJ). So now our local paraffin budgie is IJ! How exciting.

Apparently the reasoning behind the swap was that IJ is better at hovering that WB............I'm unsure why we should be blessed with the better hoverer but I'm not going to complain. Thanks to Paul Savage for pointing this out.

I also learnt something else new this week. Apparently our base station VHF in the crew room can receive all channels but only transmit on 0, 31 and 16...........I guess this is something that I ought to have known. I shall give myself a stern talking to. The reason for this is something to do with the licensing.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Wing Co

Some time, way back in the summer, Steve (nicknamed 'Wing Co') asked me if I would take a photo of him being winched into the Coastguard Rescue Helicopter. I duly did this and promptly forgot that I have done so. Anyway, here is one of the shots I took. I rather like it.

Steve will probably be disappointed that it doesn't show his face but to be honest it's for the best, the look of utter fear in all the other shots tells a story in itself! To be fair though, I have been winched into helicopters many times and it never fails to terrify me. Imagine being suspended on the end of a small wire by a loop of webbing underneath something which common sense tells you shouldn't be up there in the sky. Makes me nervous.............

It also worries me considerably that there is a length of rope attached most of the way around the fuselage of the aircraft. Apparently this is to give you something to hold onto whilst you wait for the helicopter to sink.

I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away
I believe I can soar
I see me running through that open door
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly

(R Kelly)

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

India Juliet

Our local Coastguard Rescue Helicopter is called 'Whiskey Bravo', so called because the last to letters of it's international call sign are W and B. She is based in Portland near the site of the now defunct Royal Naval airbase, HMS Osprey. So when we work with the Coastguard helicopter we are accustomed to seeing Whiskey Bravo hovering overhead. Unusually, this photo shows us working with 'India Juliet' which is based not at Portland but at the old Royal Navy airbase at Lee on Solent. Although they normally cover their own 'patch' they can be seen off their own area when tasking demands this or when they are covering another area due to maintenance. Between Solent and Portland there are 3 Coastguard Rescue Helicopters, two on duty and one in reserve at any one time.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Plastic Fantastic

Many is the occasion that we are tasked to attend a vessel in difficulty and we end up towing them. This is not really our primary purpose, however, it is often easier to persuade people that they should accept our help if we save their pride and joy at the same time.

This is not always as easy as it looks though. Many new boats have very little in the way of substantial attachment points. In days gone by most yachts would have a 'Sampson'post on their foredeck to which a tow rope could be attached. Modern yachts tend to have 'Cleats' and these are often very small, so small in fact that they are essentially useless as a point of attachment.

In the photo here Steve is trying to figure out how on earth he can attach our stout tow rope to a cleat which wouldn't look out of place on a mirror dinghy. He managed, but stayed on board and regularly checked the security of the attachment.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old

When the war was declared on the 3rd September 1939, the lifeboat service was 115 years old and had just experienced it's busiest year yet. The men who manned its fleet knew the dangers of the coast and sea in time of peace, as these were the perils of their work.

It is the tradition of the service that if there is not one man to do the job there will be another. As the young crews headed off to war their place was taken by the old and the very young. In Whitby one morning an fighter crashed into the sea, the regular crew were not their so the boat launched with a Coxswain of 71, second Cox of 60 and a crew of five boys aged 16. 20 minutes later 4 airmen were rescued from the sea. And this was the story of the boats around the coast.

I don't know how many times the boats launched during the war, how many were saved, or how many crew went to war never to return. But I do know this. They persevered and continued to follow their calling despite the dangers and are an example to us all. To quote the the Admiralty:

Without fear or thought of self, the lifeboatmen have never spared their strength and skill in helping brother sailors in distress from the dangers of the sea and the violence of the enemy.

We will remember them..........