View as PDF

RNLI Penlee volunteers to welcome last living survivor of Spanish shipwreck

Lifeboats News Release

The last surviving member of a famous shipwreck off the Cornish coast is to return to Penzance after more than 50 years to pay his respects at a memorial ceremony at the start of July.

Nim Bawden collection

The Juan Ferrer shipwreck.

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.

Rocks ahead! Three of the crew knelt on the deck praying for help, the screams of the dying crew rang in the captain’s ears. They underlined his desperation. For he knew that he, too, must surely die before that terrible night was over. But Captain Luis Ruiz lived because of the volunteer crew of the Solomon Browne lifeboat. And afterwards he was able to explain what had made him cling to his life that night when his ship hit rocks off the Cornish Coast.

Eleven members of the stricken vessel's crew did not live to tell the tale of what happened next. Only four - including the 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 sailors were transported back to Spain on the Juan Ferrer's sister coaster, but the remaining four that were found afterwards were buried in 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 by RNLI volunteers.

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 memorial stone for himself and to pay his respects.

The dedication and blessing of the Juan Ferrer memorial stone will take place at 11.00am 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 for the ceremony, will meet Mr McClary and Mr Bawden, both now in their eighties, in what will be a ‘very emotional’ reunion.

RNLI notes to editors

If you are interested in attending the Juan Ferrer memorial dedication service please make contact with Elaine Trethowan, Penlee Lifeboat Press Officer on 0770 466 9406.

Interviews will be available with retired crew members, Nim Bawden and Malvin McClary, and with Benito Nunez and his son Javier Veloso (Spanish interpreters will be in attendance).

The enclosed photographs show:

  • The Juan Ferrer shipwreck. Please credit Nim Bawden collection.
  • The Juan Ferrer. Please credit Javier Veloso.
  • The memorial stone for the Juan Ferrer shipwreck crew. Please credit Martin Brockman.

This amazing story of determination & survival, and Coxswain Jack Worth’s return of service record, start the new Penlee Lifeboat History book, ‘Service Not Self’, written by Rachael Campey. The events of that night are described in detail in the book and is one of many insights into Penlee’s lifesaving missions.

RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact Elaine Trethowan, RNLI Penlee Lifeboat Press Officer, on 0770 466 9406.

Javier Veloso

The Juan Ferrer Spanish Coaster.

Martin Brockman

The Juan Ferrer crew memorial stone.

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.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or or by email.