Saving Starbird

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Chapter 17

Rescue at Sea

As they were leaving the harbour Mr Smith handed the children life jackets to put on. Archie said bravely, “I am OK. I don’t need a lifejacket, but Sally will.”

However his dad replied, “Everyone who sails on this Lifeboat always wears a jacket, and that includes me and the coxswain.”

Archie’s dad helped Sally put her jacket on and fix all the straps securely.

It felt quite bulky to Sally but she was very glad to have it on. The one thing she had not told Archie and his dad was, like Jane, she was rather scared of the sea, but even more important, she could not swim very well!

Archie’s dad was quite angry when she confessed her lack of swimming skills. “You should have told us before we left harbour so Jack could have taken your place.”

“I am far more worried about helping Starbird than falling off the boat.” Sally replied.

“She will be fine,” Archie told his dad. “Sally has done everything needed since we started this rescue, and a lot of these things have been very frightening for her, but she has coped wonderfully every time.”

The spacecraft had been tied to the deck by using a large net that Mr Tampling and Mr Smith had secured with strong ropes. Archie and Sally had joined the coxswain in the small cabin while Archie’s dad was busy on deck stowing items and checking the lights on the boat.

“What is this green light for,” asked Sally. “Is it part of the lights for the Summer Fair?”

Archie laughed as he explained, “No of course not. It’s navigation light. They show other boats which way the Lifeboat is facing.” He then pointed to a red light on the other side of the boat.

“The red lamp is called the port light and the green one is called the starboard.”

Archie went on to explain that all boats used these coloured lamps, and the direction the boat turned was always called either to port or starboard and never left or right.

Sally laughed, “I can never remember which is left and which is right so it is a good job I am not steering the boat.”

Archie also laughed and told her the easy way to remember for a landlubber like her was a saying that his dad had taught him to say, “There is a little port left in the bottle”.

“What on earth does that mean?”

Archie’s dad explained that as port wine was red, red and left goes together!

Mr Tampling smiled as he told Sally, “It is a well known saying Sally, my own dad had explained the difference to me many years ago using the same little saying. I expect his dad explained it in the same way as well.”

They were sailing slowly towards the mouth of the harbour, steering through the other boats that were moored all around them, when the coxswain pointed to the red and green lamps that shone from either side of the outer harbour wall showing sailors the entrance in the dark.

As they sailed between the high harbour wall and out into the open sea Sally felt a bump as the Lifeboat rocked up and down as it left the safety of the harbour.

Mr Tampling explained, “We have just crossed the bar and you feel the same rocking motion of the boat at the mouth of most harbours.”

Now they were clear of the harbour the coxswain increased the speed of the engines as they set course to reach Smugglers Rock. He pointed the rock formation out to Sally on the chart that was lit by a lamp on the small table in the cabin.

He explained that it was a very dangerous part of the coastline and that they would have to be very careful when they approached their destination.

It was very dark and Sally could not see anything ahead of them as they advanced steadily through the small waves.

When she looked back she could still the lights of the village, and could even still see the coloured lights around the Smugglers Rest where, she guessed, the villagers still were enjoying the Summer Fair. All of the people laughing, eating and drinking were totally unaware of the adventure that the four of them in the Lifeboat were about to undertake, out on the darkened sea that was always such a big and important part of their village life.

Now they were underway the sea breeze was getting stronger and Sally began to feel quite cold and she was pleased that the large lifejacket was helping to keep the wind out.

Archie’s dad joined them in the small cabin and they all discussed the journey to Smugglers Rocks and what would face them when they arrived.

The coxswain said, “Do you remember our last trip to the rocks Smithy?”

Archie’s dad replied, “I will never forget that night as long as I live.”

That trip had been the emergency that Archie had told Sally about earlier, when the Lifeboat crew had saved the five sailors and received their bravery medals afterwards.

Sally asked, “How bad was the weather on that night.”

Mr Tampling sucked hard on his pipe that he had filled and lit despite steering the boat at the same time. It was several seconds before he replied. Then he told them the whole story of that eventful night.

They had received the emergency call about ten o’clock at night. The coxswain had been very pleased by the speedy response from his crew. They had released the Lifeboat down its slipway into the sea and were all on board and leaving the harbour within twenty minutes.

There were five of them in the crew that night and were all experienced fishermen. However, as they crossed the harbour bar and sailed out into the rough sea they realised that this storm was much worse than any of them could remember sailing in before. The waves were enormous; they were so big they were breaking over the top of the high outer harbour wall.

The Lifeboat was sailing straight into the oncoming waves. Diving deep into the troughs then somehow climbing up the wave to the crest, before crashing down into the next trough. This terrifying roller-coaster ride continued for over an hour, by which time the crew were all drenched and almost frozen by the continual spray from the cruel icy sea driven into their faces by the screaming storm force winds.

They knew the ship they were looking for was in trouble near Smugglers Rocks, but they were not certain exactly where it was. As they approached the dangerous area of rocks the night was inky black and Mr Tampling was not sure if they would ever find the small ship they were looking for.

Suddenly through the darkness he saw a strange greenish light. It was very bright for several seconds then disappeared as quickly as it had first appeared.

The coxswain shouted to ask if anyone else had seen it or had he imagined it.

Only Archie’s dad had seen it, and he pointed to the same area that Mr Tampling had thought he had seen it himself.

The coxswain altered course towards the direction of the strange light. By then all the other crewmembers were straining their eyes to see if they could spot anything ahead of them. They saw nothing, and their eyes were stinging with the continuous icy salty spray. Only the white tops of the crashing waves pounding over the bows of their small but sturdy boat.

They heard nothing. Only the screaming wind tearing into them as it buffeted their boat.

Suddenly they all cried out at once as the green light flashed again. This time it was just off the starboard side of the boat and it lasted longer. The coxswain swung the boat around towards it.

Now the waves were coming at them from the side and not head on as before. They were in grave danger of being swamped and turned over. All the crew hung on to the safety ropes like grim death.

Just as Mr Tampling was going to swing the boat back into the direction of the waves, out of the darkness appeared the shape of a small ship’s lifeboat.

It was in a very bad condition with part of its side split from contact with a rock. It was also very low in the water and was obviously in grave danger of sinking.

Clinging to the small boat were five sailors. They could hear them screaming out in the darkness to be spotted by the Lifeboat crew.

It took almost fifteen minutes to get grappling irons onto the stricken boat and to be able to pull it alongside.

With the enormous waves crashing down around them it was a terrifying ordeal, not only for the five sailors they were trying to rescue, but also for all the crew on the Lifeboat.

They managed to drag four of the survivors onto the Lifeboat, but the last one was obviously badly injured and could not move.

Without any warning and before anyone could stop him, Archie’s dad threw himself over the side of the Lifeboat falling just short of the side of the sinking boat.

Despite the crashing waves and the icy chill from the water, he just managed to grab the side of the boat and scramble into it.

He realised at once that the injured sailor had broken his leg as it was jutting out from his body at an unusual angle and he was screaming with fear and pain.

Mr Smith shouted for a rope with a life belt attached. After several attempts the Lifeboat crews managed to get this thrown to him and despite his fingers numb with the cold, he just managed to grab it safely.

Archie’s dad quickly fitted the life belt around the sailor who had now luckily passed out with the pain. It was then an even bigger wave smashed into the badly damaged boat, and with a sudden lurch, and without warning, the stricken boat sank.

Suddenly Archie’s dad was plunged deep under the water as a wave broke over him, but his lifejacket got him back to the surface where he gasped for air in a blind panic that lasted for several seconds. As he thrashed about in freezing black icy water he was very lucky to find a rope almost touching his hand, he grabbed it and hung on grimly as his crewmates dragged him through the crashing waves back onto the lifeboat.

Behind him on the same rope was the unconscious sailor. He was luckily still attached to the life belt that Archie’s dad had successfully tied to him earlier.

With great difficulty the Lifeboat crew managed to haul the injured sailor over the side of the boat to safety. Although he was unconscious he was still alive.

Archie’s dad lay shivering and gasping on the rolling deck of the Lifeboat, spitting out salt water, as the coxswain swung the boat around to head back towards the safety of harbour.

Deeply concerned crewmembers wrapped Archie’s dad and the unconscious sailor in thick blankets. Despite the blanket Mr Smith was blue with cold and his teeth would not stop chattering. With giant waves now directly behind them the trip home was far quicker than their outward journey, but it was still very dangerous. They all let out a loud cheer as they finally passed the welcoming red and green lamps that marked the harbour entrance.

They were all home safe and sound having saved five lives, as the badly injured sailor also survived the terrible ordeal after a long period in hospital.

When Mr Tampling and Archie’s dad finished telling the story to the children, Archie threw his arm around his dad giving him a big hug. Archie told Sally that this was the first time he had heard the whole story of that terrible night and the big part his brave dad had played in it. He knew that the whole crew had received medals for their part in the rescue, but now he knew just how much the Lifeboat crew had deserved them.

What he did not know however was the medal his dad received was only given to Lifeboat members that had shown exceptional bravery.

The coxswain said to the two children in a very quiet and serious voice, “What Smithy did that night was the bravest thing I have ever seen in all the years I have spent at sea.”

Sally said, “That was the most exciting story I have ever heard, I will never forget it. I am so pleased I have met you both.”

Archie sat very quietly for several minutes, alone with his thoughts that were dominated with the fierce pride he felt for his brave dad. He also realised just how close he had come to losing him forever on that stormy winter night.

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