The pager in Andrew Bengey’s pocket went off while he was explaining how he juggles being volunteer coxswain of the Ilfracombe all weather lifeboat (ALB) with running his accountancy and diving boat businesses. “That could be me going now” he said, “I’ll know in a minute.” If I had a minute before I had to run to jump onboard a life boat, headed who knows where, I’d maybe turn off my laptop, check where my wallet is, definitely go to the loo – but Andrew carried on chatting so I didn’t really expect this to turn into a genuine shout! Andrew explained that he no longer turns out for the inshore lifeboat (ILB) - the wear and tear of bouncing about on an open boat too rough for him at 53. Then the pager went off again, Andrew got up and with the words ‘see you later’ left the office. No time wasted on phonecalls to find out what was needed, no stopping to pick up a jacket. By the time I’d put away my notebook and reached the office reception, he was long gone. Something in the tone of that pager must have told him ‘the big boat’ as the receptionist called it was needed.
In fact the ride home was too short for the casualty who had recovered enough to talk to the crew and was relishing the experience. He was handed over to the paramedics at the lifeboat slip where the launch crew, the coastguard and presumably those volunteers who didn’t get there in time were also waiting. The whole slick operation from the first pager to the transfer to the ambulance took less than half an hour! I spotted harbour master Rob Lawson directing the ambulance which was waiting by Verity back to the lifeboat slip. I was left totally impressed that ten volunteers with busy working lives from all across Ilfracombe (more if you count the launch crews) could drop whatever they were doing and launch the boats within eight short minutes. (Later I spoke to Maggs Ashton from the diving club who said she’d once been abandoned in a restaurant while her husband answered his pager with no money to pay the bill.) And as anyone who lives in Ilfracombe knows all this while the lifeboat station is being rebuilt ready to receive the new lifeboat.
I might have told you more about the Ilfracombe RNLI volunteers – like the fact that they have five women in their crew – but my chat with Andrew was cut short as he left the office at a run! If you volunteer for the RNLI you have to be ready to go - for you never know when or where the next shout will come from. Boat Stories is also following & supporting Clovelly RNLI & Appledore RNLI & of course the volunteers all around our coast. Helmets off to all our brilliant RNLI volunteers!
Appledore lifeboat station's Molly Hunt.