Torbay RNLI volunteers recall a dramatic shout 41 years ago
When a Mayday call came in from the Brixham Pilot boat Leslie H at 12.35am on Sunday 19 February 1978 it took just three minutes for seven RNLI Torbay volunteers to launch their lifeboat Edward Bridges into mountainous seas.
Soon after the two boats were underway, they were hit by a rogue 40ft wave which swung the lifeboat broadside and rolled it over by 90 degrees until its keel was visble.
RNLI Coxwain George Dyer was totally submerged in the sea, he lost his glasses and boots, but managed to hang on. However, volunteer crew member John Ashford, who had managed to crouch down and wrap his arms under the lifeboat’s handrail, was washed overboard by the wave.
Second Coxwain Keith Bower, who had held onto his upper steering position on the lifeboat despite the force of the capsize, managed to alter the Edward Bridges course to allow Coxwain Dyer to get a rope out to John Ashford and pull him to safety.
After the capsize, Coxswain Dyer decided that the risk to life in continuing the tow was too great. The volunteer RNLI crew took Captain Bob Curtis onto the lifeboat and let go the tow rope. Although the Leslie H was dashed on the rocks beneath Berry Head soon after, the RNLI volunteers battled back to Brixham and returned the pilot crew to shore without serious injury.
Despite being swept overboard that day, John Ashford went on to give another 40 years service to the RNLI in Torbay and only retired as relief Coxswain in 2018. True to the RNLI tradition of generation after generation of families giving service to the charity, two of Keith Bower’s nephews Ray and Will are volunteer crew on the Torbay Lifeboat today.
Coxwain Dyer was awarded the RNLI’s Bronze Medal for his courage, fine seamanship and outstanding leadership during this extraordinary rescue. RNLI Medal certificates were also awarded to the volunteer crew of Keith Bower, Ron Bradford, Arthur Curnow, Brian Caunter, John Hunkin and John Ashford.
Notes to editors
Photos: Leslie H being battered in high seas before foundering off Berry Head, Edward Bridges on operations in the 1970's and Edward Bridges alongside the QE2.
Torbay Lifeboat Station Key Facts:
- Torbay lifeboat station has been operating since 1866. To learn more about the station go to: https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeboat-stations/torbay-lifeboat-station
- The Edward Bridges served as the Torbay Lifeboat from 1975 -1994, was launched 459 times and its volunteer crew were responsible for rescuing 286 people
- Current Coxswain of Torbay Lifeboat is Mark Criddle
- Further information on Torbay Lifeboat Station’s local activities can be found at:http://www.torbaylifeboat.co.uk/
RNLI media contacts
Shona Duncan, RNLI Torbay Acting Lifeboat Press Officer (Volunteer)
07778 002866 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Emma Haines, RNLI Regional Media Officer:
01752 854450 or email@example.com
or RNLI Public Relations at Poole HQ on 01202 336 789 (24 hours)
For more information on the RNLI please visit www.rnli.org.uk. News releases and other media resources, including RSS feeds, downloadable photos and video, are available at the RNLI Press Centre www.rnli.org.uk/press
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 230 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and has more than 180 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK. 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 140,000 lives.
A charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SCO37736). Charity number CHY 2678 in the Republic of Ireland
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.