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Chris Wilson retires from Bude RNLI after 27 years of service

Lifeboats News Release

After 27 years of being part of the crew at Bude lifeboat, Chris Wilson, helm and lifeboat operations manager (LOM) has moved on to new adventures up country.

Chris Wilson and Liam Sharpe sat in the D class lifeboat with Charlie Green stood in front of the boat outside Bude lifeboat station


Chris Wilson, pictured with Liam Sharpe and Charlie Green, after his last shout with Bude lifeboat,
Not only was Chris an extremely popular crew member and leader he also brought masses of experience to the role from his working life as an assessor and verifier with the outdoor education sector. Chris' knowledge, good humour and banter will be sorely missed in the boathouse. Everyone at the lifeboat station would like to thank him for all he's done for Bude lifeboat and we wish him the very best in his new life.
Before leaving Chris managed to squeeze in one last rescue as a crew member onboard the lifeboat when the shout went out to help a leisure fishing vessel in trouble close to Summerleaze beach on the 26th June. Despite tricky surf conditions and the proximity to rocks the crew were able to safely rescue two fishermen providing a positive and memorable finale to his long, voluntary service with the RNLI.
The crew would like to congratulate Liam Sharpe on his new role as lifeboat operations manager. Liam has been a crew member at Bude since late 2003, becoming helm in 2011, a RNLI trainer/ assessor in 2016 and a Deputy Launching Authority (DLA) in 2019. Everyone at Bude lifeboat would like to take this opportunity to wish him the best in his new role.
Liam said, 'It's a complete honour to be asked to be the next custodian of Bude Lifeboat Station and to be entrusted with leading the station and crew as the Lifeboat Operations Manager.
Myself and the crew wish Chris all the best and success in his move. It was a really sad day when Chris finished. I've had many memorable shouts with Chris over the past years. After 27 years service on a 'D' class lifeboat he deserves a nice arm chair to relax in!'
What better way to say farewell to Chris and also congratulate Liam on his new role than to recall one of the most memorable rescues they both took part in, with Chris at the helm.
Told in the words of professional kayaker, Ailien Rhijnsburger, who departed from London in 2016 to kayak around the UK:
Expedition Day 50, 31st of July 2016
On the 50th day of my expedition I ran into trouble and had to be rescued of a rock in the middle of the night. Thank god for the coastguard and the amazing volunteers of the RNLI.
The day had started innocent enough. Still tired from the long day before, I take it easy. I sleep until just before nine, then pack up my tent. I stow everything in the kayak and walk up to the campsite cafe for breakfast.
It is almost one when I finally set off. I don’t plan to make it a long day, after yesterday, I want to try to take it a bit easier. I check my maps and charts. Maybe I can land at Tintagel, and visit King Arthur’s castle. If I cannot find a place to camp there, then Boscastle looks like a good option. It has a harbour and should be fairly sheltered from the swell. Boscastle is about 15 Nm, which seems like a nice distance for today. To be sure I check what other options I have; Crackington haven should be fairly sheltered from the SW swell and wind. Bude seems far, it has a harbour but is 30 Nm from Trevose head.
It is a perfect day for sea kayaking; there is hardly any wind and the sea is alive but gentle and fun. I can get close to the cliffs and thoroughly enjoy the paddle. I get into a nice rhythm, my tight muscles relax and any leftover tension disappears. The sun is shining warm and brightens up my mood. It really feels like today is a gift of mother nature, making up for yesterday’s big swell.
I round the headland of Tintagel and paddle into the cove. It is busy, swimmers enjoy the calm waters in the cove and some are having a ball jumping off the rocks. On the hill people are exploring the ruins of the old castle or just hang around, enjoying the sunshine. What on the map looked like a little beach is in reality just a couple of boulders, with a steep set of stairs leading up to the castle.
It looks inviting and I would have loved to stop, but I cannot really see a spot to land and safely leave my kayak. I hang around a little, soaking in the atmosphere and exploring a cave, the set off again to find my harbour in Boscastle.
On the top of a headland a white tower indicates Boscastle must be close, but when I paddle into the cove on the other side I see just steep cliffs and a couple of stacks just by the entrance of the cove. It doesn’t look like a place where a village can be. Maybe I am mistaken and it is a bit further on?
I paddle on and don’t see anything that looks like Boscastle. Just lots of steep stacks and cliffs. It puzzles me, is my map not right? I am sure I was awake all the time. I was looking out for it and I was close in, so how can I have missed seeing a whole village?
Further on I finally see a village, but that must be Crackington haven. What on the map and charts looked like a good alternative, now doesn’t look so good. The wind has turned and what should have been a sheltered cove now had surf. Even just by the entrance of the cove the waves are gathering strength and try to push me in. There are lots of people in the water and there are rocks on either side. I don’t want to bring myself or anyone else in danger, so I check my map.
Widemouth sands is the next option, but it looks like it will be very exposed, and it must have lots of surf there too. The other option is Bude, 5 miles further along the coast. It has a harbour, so maybe I can land there. Not quite the short day I had looked forward to, but hey.

I set off again and paddle hard. The sun is setting and I am racing against the sun, trying to reach Bude before the sun is gone. I feel the swell building again, it lifts me up and brings me back down, but I keep paddling as fast as I can.
I look around, and spot a place to my right, where it looks as if the waves are fairly quiet there. Could that be a possible landing spot? There is some beach behind the rocks, and some of it looks like it might be over the high tide line, I contemplate paddling back to check, but I don’t have any time to lose. Bude still seems the safest option.
When I finally reach Bude the sun is turning everything into gold, the cliffs as well as the tops of the waves, crashing into Bude's sandy beach. I could have known there would be surf here too, I came to Bude a couple of years back to practice kayak surfing.
I look out for the harbour entrance. I spot the green light which indicates the harbour, but I don’t see the entrance, just big surf everywhere; the tide must be too low to be able to enter.
...What now?
The only option I see is to paddle back, to the place under the cliffs I had spotted earlier and see if I can land there. It is not ideal, as it is a long way back and the darkness is falling fast. I hope for a moon, it has been clear blue all day, but the evening has brought clouds and the moon is nowhere to be seen.
The swell is helping me on my way back. I don’t feel tired anymore, I just want to get back to the place I had passed hours earlier. It seems as if the way back was faster than the way to Bude, but I have no sense of time anymore. I try to orientate myself, comparing my memory of what I had seen by day to the little lights I see on the cliffs. Out of the darkness looms an even darker shape. I must be closer to the rocks than I thought. I paddle back out, hard, trying to avoid the rocks that I now see all around me. While paddling back out I still try to look out for the bit of the cliffs that had looked like an option earlier in the day.
A wave catches me unawares, I feel myself being pushed sideways, I brace, but the wave breaks on top of me and tips me over. I feel my paddle on a rock and bail out. I stumble over rocks, it is so shallow, the water is only knee deep, but the waves keep crashing into me and it is hard to stand up on the rocks. I still hold my paddle and the kayak, which is, like me being smashed against the rocks.
I turn Sundance right side up and slide her in a little gully between the rocks just to my left. The water there is a bit calmer, but it is still hard wading through. The ground is uneven and I have to feel my way through in the darkness. I pull Sundance as far up on some rocks as I can, grab the kayak light I keep by my seat and clamber on the rocks, trying to see if there is a way to get to the cliff, and maybe some sand over the flood line.
It is impossible to see in the darkness. The flood is coming in fast and I don’t want to leave the kayak too long. It is not just because of the kayak; it has everything in it I will need to survive. Tent, bivy bag, warm clothes. The tide keeps coming up and I keep pulling the kayak further on the rocks.
During my training, many of my instructors have urged us not to wait too long to call for help. They insisted it is better to ask for help as soon as things go wrong, and this seems to be the moment to make the call I hoped I would never have to make. I take my phone out of its waterproof pouch in my buoyancy aid, dial 999 and ask for the coastguard.
I get transferred right away. I explain I am a kayaker, ran aground on the rocks, that I have capsized while trying to find a safe place to land. The coastguard lady asks me where I am and where I came from. She checks the location and asks where I was heading to, as Widemouth seems a long way from Trevose head. I agree it is a long way, explain that I am on an expedition and paddled from London, that I had paddled from Trevose head to Bude and back to Widemouth, trying to find a safe place to land. She asks what I am wearing. I have my jacket, buoyancy aid, radio, EPIRB beacon and a light. My kayak is still intact and I have my paddle.
Satisfied with my answers, she tells me to turn my radio on and to keep listening to channel 16. Someone will get back to me to tell me if they can come out to help me.
The upcoming tide keeps me busy. I scramble around on the slippery rocks and keep pulling the kayak further away from the crashing waves.
Not long after my phone rings, and someone tells me help is on the way, a team from the RNLI has just launched from Bude. In the meantime I manage to get my kayak across the rocks to a gully on the other side. I get back in and paddle around in the relatively still but shallow waters, trying to stay away from the rocks. My light blinds me but I can’t turn it off. It is my only way to signal where I am.
A bright searchlight appears, shining down from the cliffs. I wave my light, hoping they will spot me, when the team from Bude calls me on the radio. By now I see their light too. I explain I am back in my kayak and they ask if I can paddle up towards them, so they can stay away from the rocks.
Blinded by my own light and theirs, I paddle without seeing, hoping the sea between me and them is free of rocks. I spot friendly faces and within seconds I am pulled into a small orange rib, and Sundance lies diagonally across and between us all.
The second ride to Bude that day is much faster than the first, even if the swell and my kayak across the Rib force helmsman Chris Wilson to navigate slowly. Every couple of minutes a big splash of water across the bow drench the crew and me completely, but the men are cheerful and put me at ease with their competence and friendly banter.
Chris tells me he immediately knew it had to be me; Catherine Tanner, who had done her own circumnavigation of the UK with Rowland Woollven and whom I met in Plymouth had told him about my expedition. They happen to be old friends and used to be colleagues at an outdoor centre in Bude. Incredible, what a small world.
Even more incredible is how the team manages to navigate the rib, with a kayak on the top, in the pitch black with only a torch to light the way back to Bude. They shoot a flare up to light up the beach and show the waves, then manoeuvre and land perfectly, smooth and safe through the surf.
Soon after I have a cup of tea in my hand, wearing a fluffy warm bunny suit ten sizes too big, warmed up from the shower they offered me as soon as we landed.
How incredible these men are. Jumping out of bed in the middle of the night, to get out through the surf in the pitch black night in a little boat, to help a stranded kayaker out on the rocks 5 miles away.
Not only did they save me; they saved my kayak too. They offered showers, cups of tea, a spare bedroom, a dry room for my kit and a safe place to leave Sundance. They never made me feel bad about what happened. Instead they praised me and the safety equipment I had on me.

You guys are incredible and I am more grateful than I can ever express.
Thank you. Thank you to the crew who came out to find me, Chris, Mark Palmer, Liam Sharpe and thank everyone else of the RNLI team in Bude who were there when we came back in the middle of the night and everyone in the Coast Guard who was involved in my rescue.
Ailien Rhijnsburger and the Bude lifeboat crew are stood in front of the inshore lifeboat outside the Bude boathouse.


Ailien Rhijnsburger with the Bude lifeboat crew, pictured after her rescue in 2016
Chris Wilson in an RNLI jumper


Chris Wilson

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