RNLI Penlee volunteers set to welcome only surviving member of famous shipwreck
The only surviving member of a famous shipwreck off the Cornish coast is to return to Penzance after more than 50 years to pay his respects.
Two RNLI volunteers based at Penlee Lifeboat Station recently teamed up to raise £870 to mark the final resting place of four Spanish sailors who perished after their 640-tonne Spanish coaster - the Juan Ferrer - ran aground on the rocks of Boscawen Point on October 23, 1963. Only four of the 15 crew survived the tragedy after a south-westerly gale and poor visibility got them into trouble near Porthcurno. The radio was dead, the ships lifeboats were out of action and the Juan Ferrer, fatally gashed by the rocks, was sinking fast.
Eleven members of the vessel's crew of 15 did not live to tell the tale of what happened next. Only four - including the Juan Ferrer's 32-year old captain - could recount the desperate battle against a very angry sea.
The survivors were taken to Newlyn Fishermen's Mission and, after being treated at West Cornwall Hospital, were flown back to Spain from London.
The recovered bodies of the dead sailors were shipped back to Spain on the Juan Ferrer's sister coaster but the remaining four bodies that were found afterwards were buried at the Roman Catholic section of Penzance Cemetery.
Manuel Corral Castiñera 29, Carlos Coello De Castro, 31, Manuel Esperante Esperante, 41, and Domingo Vidal Blanco, 30 - whose son Domingo was only 12 months old at the time – lay in that unmarked grave until the memorial was recently bought and installed with the funds raised.
The unmarked grave was found whilst the new Penlee Lifeboat History book 'Service Not Self' was being researched by the Penlee Lifeboat Press & Heritage Officers, Elaine Trethowan and Martin Brockman. Elaine's father, 83-year-old Nim Bawden, and his friend Malvin McClary, were members of the Solomon Browne lifeboat crew from Penlee who went to the sailors aid on that fateful night.
Now the only surviving member of that crew, 71-year-old Benito Mayo Núñez, will travel back to Cornwall to see the stone for himself and to pay his respects.
The dedication and blessing of the Juan Ferrer memorial stone will take place at 11am on Saturday 8 July at Penzance Cemetery. It will be followed on the morning of Sunday 9 July with a visit to the wreck site onboard the Penlee all-weather lifeboat Ivan Ellen. A blessing will be carried out by the Penlee Lifeboat Chaplain, Julyan Drew, and Mr Nunez and his family will place a wreath in memory of those who perished at Boscawen Point.
RNLI Penlee Press Officer Elaine Trethowan said: 'It has been a very emotional journey, two communities have been pulled together through a tragic event in 1963 - situations like this really do show the internet and Facebook at its best - the reaction has been brilliant and we are so grateful for all the donations.'
'For my dad, who is now 83, and Malvin McClary, who were both part of the Solomon Browne crew that night, it's a reminder of the tragic event. It's touching to think that after all this time there are still people who remember and want to do something for those caught up in the tragedy.'
Mr Núñez, who will be travelling to Cornwall from Galicia with his family to take part in the ceremony, will meet Mr McClary and Mr Bawden, both now in their eighties, in what will be a "very emotional" reunion.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.