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Volunteer receives award- full rescue story

by Tamsin Thomas on 20 Jul 2011
Blythe Spirit doomed but crew saved .. .
A Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) volunteer is to receive the Institution's prized 'Thanks of the Institution on Vellum' for his bravery in the dramatic rescue of two sailors grounded on rocks in breaking seas. (See Sail-World http://www.sail-world.com/CruisingAus/Every-sailors-nightmare---no-wind,-engine-fails,-on-the-rocks/83102!story.) The full details of the precarious rescue, along with the determination and courage of the volunteer and his other crew are recounted here:

Torbay RNLI crew volunteer Nigel Crang (45) is to receive the award. Two other volunteers who were onboard the D class inshore lifeboat, John Heale (35) and Will Bower (37), will be presented with Framed Letters of Thanks from the RNLI Chairman. There will also be written recognition for Richard Fowler, the 2nd Coxswain of the all-weather lifeboat, as he and his crew stood by during the rescue.

The incident happened on Sunday 1 May when the lifeboat crews were paged to the two crew of the yacht Blythe Spirit that was aground on Corbyn’s Head. Both the RNLI all-weather and inshore lifeboat crews were launched at 2.55pm and found the yacht had grounded head to sea with waves breaking over her. Fortunately the crew were suitably dressed and wearing lifejackets.

Immediately it was decided no attempt should be made to tow the yacht off and that it would not be possible to get the Severn class all-weather lifeboat Alec and ChristinaDykes close enough because of the breaking swell and the rocky conditions. This left the volunteer crew of the Torbay RNLI D class inshore lifeboat John William Hirst to take on the job of rescuing the two sailors.

Nigel Crang, who has been an RNLI volunteer for 23 years, made two attempts to veer* the inshore lifeboat to the yacht using one line attached to bow of the all-weather lifeboat and another to the inshore lifeboat anchor. However, the all-weather lifeboat had to manoeuvre in the swell, which meant it wasn’t stable enough to give Helmsman Crang full control of the inshore lifeboat.

During these attempts the inshore lifeboat was temporarily driven hard aground twice, causing propeller damage, and was also completely filled with water. Having confirmed the damage had not reduced the lifeboat’s capability, Nigel Crang then decided to approach the yacht holding the lifeboat steady via its own anchor.

As the yacht was approached, a wave washed into the lifeboat, driving it hard aground and causing the anchor to break free. One of the crew volunteers, John Heale, jumped onto the rock and pushed the lifeboat away as the receding wave didn’t carry it clear.

The yacht’s situation was getting worse by this stage. Helmsman Crang took the sudden opportunity of a brief lull in between the waves to drive the inshore lifeboat alongside the stricken vessel and take the man off the yacht.
The woman who was on the higher windward side of the yacht, was then persuaded to move to the lower side and successfully recovered into the lifeboat. Both were then put safely ashore. The yacht subsequently broke up.

Adrian Carey, RNLI Divisional Inspector for the south west, says it was a daring rescue:
‘This was a difficult and dangerous service that could easily have resulted in the capsize of the inshore lifeboat. Nigel has commented that this was the closest he has come in his 23 years of voluntary service to losing a lifeboat. Despite suffering several setbacks the crew volunteers showed great perseverance to achieve a successful outcome and it just shows the value of the RNLI’s continuous crew training programme.’

RNLI notes :
• *To veer is to take the lifeboat astern using a line attached to an anchor to hold the bow of the lifeboat into the sea.
• The Thanks of the Institution on Vellum is one of the four major awards given by the RNLI for meritorious actions, the other three being the RNLI’s bronze, silver and gold medals. It is the gift of the RNLI trustees to award the Vellums and they are not handed out lightly.
• In the last five years (2005 – 2010) just 20 Thanks of the Institution on Vellum have been awarded in the south west.
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