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Edition 2014

RNLI volunteer heroes receive two awards for dangerous rescue

by Richard Smith, RNLI/Sail-World Cruising on 22 Aug 2010
Volunteer heroes with Esprit in tow .. .
The heroes of the sea are usually portrayed as the adventure sailors who sail how and where most wouldn't. So it's always good to see those other, less honoured heroes receive the recognition they deserve. In the UK, in Kent, a lifeboat crew will receive a second award for an outstanding rescue of two sailors after one of them fell overboard and was trailing by his tether.

The Whitstable Atlantic 75 will be given the Walter and Elizabeth Groombridge Award to mark the crew’s performance on 4 September last year when they launched in rough seas to rescue the couple from a yacht.

The yacht, Esprit, was sailing for Ramsgate, but due to the weather, the crew decided to go into the Swale. Both the crew come from London.

With a distress signal received from the yacht, Whistable's lifeboat launched in Force 7 (28-33knots) wind, with moderate to rough seas.

When the RNLI team arrived, they found that the yacht’s skipper had been washed overboard and he was tethered by lifelines while the other sailor, his wife, who had been unable to pull him back on board, remained on the yacht.

Helmsman Jonathan Carter had to avoid crushing the man between the lifeboat and the yacht while Tony Martin, a lifeboat crew member, was transferred onboard the yacht. The skipper required urgent hospital treatment. He was wrapped in a thermal pouch, given oxygen, and the lifeboat brought him to shore, leaving his wife and yacht at sea.

One crewman from the Sheerness Lifeboat, also called to the scene, was transferred onboard and the yacht was taken in tow, with limited options as to where to tow the yacht.

The Coxswain Robin Castle decided to head back to Sheerness; however the woman sailor onboard was in a distressed state and worried about her husband, who was believed to have been taken to the QEQM hospital in Margate.

Mr Castle requested Whitstable Lifeboat re-launch to evacuate her back to Whitstable, this was done by 4.15 pm a second crewman was transferred to the yacht and the slow tow against wind and tide re-commenced.

The yacht was eventually secured in Queenborough harbour at 6.22 pm, the lifeboat returned to moorings at 6.45 pm and was ready for service at 7.06 pm.

The RNLI was involved in the emergency for five hours.

Mike Judge, the Lifeboat Operations Manager at Whitstable, said: ‘Noone is in the RNLI to get an award. That is not why the crew turn out of their beds in the middle of the night or down tools during the day and run down the street.

‘That is the last thing on their mind. However, when the dust has settled after a very intense period of pressure on a shout, it is nice to reflect and to be recognised for that work.’

Jonathan has already been accorded the Thanks of the Institution on Vellum, the fourth most senior award in the RNLI, for his role. Crew members Tony Martin, Henry Thomson and Martin Easton received a Vellum Service Certificate and Mike received a letter of appreciation.

The Walter and Elizabeth Groombridge Award was established in 1988 to be made for the most meritorious service performed by the crew of an Atlantic 21, a lifeboat now superseded by newer models.

The Award comprises a pair of inscribed binoculars for Jonathan, framed certificates for each member of crew involved in the service, and a certificate for display in the boathouse.

For more information on the RNLI please visit

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