It is hard to imagine setting off in a 37-foot boat when the breaking seas are 40 feet high. Harder still to think of standing for 11 hours up to your waist in icy sea water while the air, at four degrees below zero, gradually numbs, then freezes, your face and fingers until the skin is painful to the touch. But the Wells lifeboat crew endured these conditions when they went to the rescue of a Romanian cargo ship during a blizzard.
Coxswain David Cox knew the risks before they set out and he waited for his most experienced crew before he launched. The stricken vessel was the Savinesti, which had engine failure and had lost both her anchors. As the lifeboat entered the open sea she was hit by the full force of the wind, and was continually filling with water from the massive waves that were washing right over her. She soon lost her radar, MF radio and echo sounder, and it took the crew three hours to find the Savinesti. As the storm intensified to hurricane force 12, the lifeboat stood by the cargo ship until she was relieved by the Humber lifeboat two hours later.
On the return journey, snow was blowing directly into the cockpit and one crew member had the task of keeping the screen and compass glass clear. It took the lifeboat two hours to negotiate the final seven miles home. Visibility was so poor that a local fishing boat had to act as a pilot to guide the lifeboat over the bar and into the harbour. By the time the lifeboat finally berthed, the crew were rigid with cold and unable to walk. They had to be helped ashore and into dry clothes before being driven to their homes. Two men had frostbite and lost the feeling in their fingers for three weeks.
Wells itself was cut off by snow for the next three days. Graham Walker said that the cold was so intensely painful that he would have been relieved if the lifeboat had capsized and never come up again. The sea was warmer than the biting cold of the blizzard. "It was like somebody throwing bath water over you", he recalls. On reaching the quay, the lifeboatmen saw that well wishers had lined up bottles of brandy and rum for them but all Graham wanted was a cup of tea. Graham was one of the men with frostbite, but he still insists that "I wouldn't have missed it for anything".
You are welcome to watch the lifeboats launch on exercise from a safe distance on the beach bank or beach; please keep clear of the boats and launching vehicles and keep children and dogs under supervision. Exercises are roughly every two weeks and we try to post dates and times in advance when we can. All dates are subject to change or cancellation at short notice for operational reasons.
Sunday 3 Mar 2024 09:30
Marking the RNLI's 200th anniversary, the lifeboat will launch on exercise and run up to the quay around 10am
Sunday 24 Mar 2024 09:30
Launch & Recovery on Holkham beach