Best ‘man’ in the crew: Why one RNLI volunteer made the headlines in 1961

Today (8 March 2017) marks a worldwide celebration recognising courageous women - it’s a day we’re incredibly proud to support. From fundraisers to engineers and lifeguards to volunteers, women from all backgrounds are an intrinsic part of who we are. And today around 8% of our brave volunteer crew members are female. To help us celebrate International Women’s Day, Pat Mucklow shares her story as the first woman to join Mallaig lifeboat crew in 1960.

Best ‘man’ in the crew, Pat Mucklow

Photo: RNLI/Joan Murray

Since becoming a lifeboat volunteer at 23, Pat has worn many hats (and helmets) over the years - from crew member to station treasurer, secretary, shop volunteer and fundraiser.

She was recently awarded both the RNLI Silver and Gold Badge for working with the charity for over half a century - and still had time to celebrate her 80th birthday last summer.

What inspired you to join the RNLI?

Boats have always been part of my life. You can blame my father for my love of them - he had several in the 1930s and would sail with his two brothers around the West Highlands and Hebrides.

He even named me after a famous fishing trawler, Girl Pat, which caused a stir in 1936 - she set sail off the east coast of Scotland on a fishing trip and turned up in Georgetown, British Guyana, 10 weeks later!

How did you first get involved?

I joined as a crew member on a general charter boat in Mallaig, Scotland, which became my home. Life was extremely busy - fishermen got used to seeing me onboard during a time when women weren’t out in the elements.

I was given a lecture from one fisherman about how I shouldn’t be out with the boats - but I respected his traditions, so I smiled and got on with my work. Then one day, the fishermen had a record catch of herring after they’d asked me aboard. I thought: ‘Aha! I’ve broken that curse!’

I was the first female to gain a boatman’s licence in Scotland and I was soon going out with the fishermen in all weathers. We’d take passengers, supplies and livestock to the islands - one particularly stormy day, some fishermen asked me: ‘How were you not seasick?!’

Can you describe your first shout as a lifeboat crew member?

Early one morning, the maroons went off. Grabbing oilskins, I jumped ashore to see what was happening - the lifeboat crew were a man short, so I stepped forward and we were away.

There wasn’t an official joining procedure in those days - you just needed to be able in the work you did and quick to see what was required. I was just one of the crew and I proved I could handle a boat. It’s amazing to think what we used to do before radar, with just a compass and a look-out!

We were mostly called to help broken down boats getting blown ashore - and of course, there was the day of the hurricane!

What happened during the hurricane?

It was 16 September 1961 and a southerly force 12 gale was rising. The increasing roar of the wind made you feel alarmed - it was quite something. You had to make sure you didn’t get blown off your feet.

We attempted to help five vessels. First, we were called to assist a small fishing boat that was unable to get into the harbour - we helped to tow her in. Then, we were told there was another fishing boat in difficulty with three men aboard so we went back out - but we soon discovered they’d made it to safety.

As we returned to station, we met with a fishing boat dragging two anchors and getting blown out of the harbour. Her engine wouldn’t restart, so we pulled her into Mallaig and tied her up.

Then, we spotted a ketch [a sailing craft with two masts] with two anchors down, drifting to sea. Her crew asked to be taken off the boat which was a struggle - our lifeboat back then wasn’t very manoeuvrable in heavy waters.

Meanwhile, a three-masted training ship had been trying to get back into the harbour - but the rough wind meant she could only get halfway. We couldn’t get close enough, so we kept watch until the wind fell away in the early hours.

Did becoming a crew member change how you feel about the sea?

One never stopped to think of the personal dangers of the water - there was a job to be done.

The great and powerful sea was there. Respect it - you’ll never beat it. You’ll find the most awe-inspiring moments of your life out at sea and meet some very interesting people on the way.

Crew member isn’t the only role you’ve had at the RNLI, is it?

When my employer in Mallaig passed away, I moved to Kyle of Lochalsh. The harbour master at the time was approaching the RNLI about the need for a lifeboat here.

A lifeboat arrived for trial in spring 1995 when I was invited to be the station treasurer. Although age prevented me going out to sea any longer, I could still man the radio at the lifeboat station and I had first aid training under my belt.

I later became the souvenir secretary and ran the RNLI shop for 8 years. These days, I’m the station and fundraising treasurer as well as the collection box secretary - I travel a couple of hundred miles at a time to help empty them. I like to thank the individuals and let them know how much they’ve raised for the RNLI - it’s a great encouragement.

Even at my age, I’m still able to help. One day a year, I sit at our local supermarket - it’s amazing what you can do with just a bucket and smile! And I make a lot of jams and marmalades for our fundraising events - they’re always a great seller. Life is very busy.

What would you say to young women who may be considering joining the crew or volunteering for the RNLI?

I’d tell them that we have one of the best rescue organisations in the world here - to be part of it is to be part of something fulfilling and special.

It gives me great pleasure knowing that we currently have two dedicated and capable ladies in the Kyle lifeboat crew - you never know what you are capable of until you try.

It’s very satisfying to support something that makes such a difference to people’s lives - even just by sitting with a bucket in a supermarket. It’s a thrill to count it all up and think: ‘The customers gave you that much? Wow!’

The RNLI is a way of life and life would be very empty without it. It’s frustrating that I can no longer go out on the boats!

Feeling inspired?

We are always looking for people, from all walks of life, to help us save more lives at sea - whether you’re keen to become a crew member, or fancy your hand at fundraising.

If you’re curious about how you can help the RNLI and what experiences volunteering could offer you, we’d love to hear from you.

Who gets your #BraveTag?

Pat gets our #BraveTag this International Women’s Day but who gets yours?

There are all kinds of brave. If you had to give someone you know recognition for their courage, who would it be, and why?

Give a #BraveTag to the most courageous people you know. Get involved on Facebook or Twitter.