Helmsman Mark Reeves was awarded the Walter and Elizabeth Groombridge award after the Redcar Atlantic 75 lifeboat was judged to have performed the most meritorious service by this class of lifeboat in 2003. The rescue has already earned Mark one of the RNLI’s highest awards – the Thanks of the Institution on Vellum.
The rescue on 15 August 2003 involved both Redcar lifeboats, the Atlantic 75 and the D class. Crewmen Jon Danks and Thommy McNamara were with Mark in the Atlantic and while he used considerable skill to manoeuvre the boat in heavy seas, they were able to pull the casualty aboard.
The RNLI’s Training Divisional Inspector for the North, Robin Warrington, said at the time: ‘This award is thoroughly deserved. Mark is an experienced helmsman and this is the first time in his fifteen years with the RNLI where he can genuinely say he has saved a life by being there in the nick of time.'
At 2.42pm on 15 August 2003 Humber Coastguard requested the launch of both RNLI inshore lifeboats to assist a lifeguard and a surfer who were in difficulties at Saltburn, 3.5 miles to the southeast of the lifeboat station. The lifeboat operations manager at Redcar, Ian Readman, activated the crew pagers at 2.44pm.
The crew assembled and at 2.50pm the Redcar Atlantic 75 lifeboat Leicester Challenge II launched from the beach. The weather at the launch site was wind easterly force 4, slight to moderate sea with a one metre swell, good visibility and cloudy skies.
The lifeboat, with Helmsman Mark Reeves in command, and Crewmen Jon Danks and Thommy McNamara aboard made best speed for Saltburn. Once clear of the protection that lies immediately off Redcar beach it was apparent that there was a heavy three to four metre swell running from the north. Mark set his course slightly further offshore than normal to avoid the steepening swell in the shallower waters. Jonathan Danks established radio contact with Humber Coastguard who confirmed that there were up to three people missing in the water.
At 2.54pm the Redcar D class lifeboat Peterborough Beer Festival I launched from the beach. Weather conditions were as for the Atlantic launch. Helmsman Mark Greaves was in command and Crew Member David Bourne was aboard. Mark Greaves made best speed for Saltburn in support of the Atlantic, again the lifeboat coped well with sea conditions.
At 2.59pm the Atlantic lifeboat arrived at the scene. The beach profile of Saltburn Sands is a very shallow gradient such that the swells were breaking heavily from two to three hundred metres offshore, making the area popular with surfers. The size of the swell approaching the search area was such that the view of the beach was very difficult to pick up unless the lifeboat ran in on the crest of a wave. Helmsman MarkReeves briefed his crew before entering the rough water, his intention being to run in through the surf towards the beach, and his crew were given instructions to search between the waves on the run in. Mark would turn the lifeboat out to sea when he became concerned about the depth of water available.
Mark was aware that the flood tide coupled with the shore rip would set the lifeboat towards the pier at Saltburn, he was worried that the casualty had been swept under the pier where they would be unable to help. He chose his wave and ran into the heavy surf, which was breaking in excess of three metres. The waves were between one and three boat lengths apart, and about 200 metres of white water was running into the shallows.
Jon Danks spotted something yellow off to the port side at about 30 metres distance and it became apparent this was the lifeguard wearing his yellow tee shirt. Mark turned the lifeboat towards the casualty, and, balancing the need for power against the surf, effectively ‘glided’ the lifeboat towards the casualty. The minimum depth of water noted was one metre. It could be seen that the casualty was being thrown around violently by the spilling surf, and was spending considerably more time under the water than above it. Jon and Tommy discussed the option of entering the water should it become necessary, and Tommy volunteered. The lifeboat took on about six broken waves before being close enough to the casualty to effect a rescue. The casualty was visible to Mark about 50% of the time between breaking seas.
Mark brought the casualty alongside on the starboard side, astern of the throttle controls. Tommy managed to grab the casualty’s hand, then Jon got the other hand and pulled him quickly aboard. The casualty was put on to the bench seat and Jon and Tommy concentrated on keeping him in the boat. The lifeguard confirmed that there were no other people in the water, the other two having made the shore.
There was constant broken water washing through the lifeboat at this stage as Mark took the lifeboat slowly seaward through the worst of the breaking water. The lifeboat was being stood vertical at times, and he had to work skilfully to balance power against speed. The distance between the sets of breakers was such that he was unable to pick his route through the surf, and had to take on whatever was in front of him. After taking on four to six waves the lifeboat cleared the surf and was back in the relative calm of the clean swell.
The casualty was responsive but very cold and shivering and remarked that he could not have lasted much longer. He was placed in a survival bag and fitted with a lifejacket. The D class then arrived on scene, the time was 3.08pm, and it was confirmed to the shore that there were no other people in the water. There was an ambulance waiting on the beach and after discussion it was decided to transfer the casualty, with Jon, to the D class to be landed on the beach.
The D class lifeboat ran into the beach with four people aboard, and experienced an uncomfortable but safe passage into the beach. The extra weight of the third crew would be needed to leave the beach safely. Once clear of the more powerful surf the lifeboat was manoeuvred some distance to the shoreline where the casualty was handed over to the waiting coastguard and ambulance personnel at 3.14pm.
The D class then picked its way though the surf, experiencing little difficulty until the last six waves when, as with the Atlantic, Helmsman Mark Greaves had to balance power against speed. The breaking surf needed a moderate amount of power to break through, and all three aboard the D class landed heavily several times.
At 3.20pm both boats proceeded back to station, arriving at the beach at 3.28pm and being ready for service by 4.15pm.
Redcar Lifeboat Station is part of the Royal
National Lifeboat Institution, Registered Charity No. 209603.