Detective work by Teddington RNLI solves speedboat mystery
Helm James Kavanagh explains how the discovery of an empty boat adrift on the River Thames sparked a search for clues.
Living in leafy Teddington has been something of a privilege during lockdown. But such is human nature that sometimes it can be too easy to overlook our surroundings and their ability to make us feel more positive and inspired.
It is how people look out for one another that is the mark of a caring community and really matters most when times are difficult.
On a cold wet January morning, spooning breakfast cereal into my children and wondering what another day of lockdown would bring, I received a call from Lucia Prentice, wife of my friend Angus and a fellow helm at Teddington RNLI lifeboat station.
A friend of hers was walking her dog by the River Thames when she spotted a speedboat floating down the river, apparently with nobody on board.
Not knowing what to do, she called Lucia.
The boat was some distance from the shore but the current carried it within reach of the bank where a helpful bystander out walking with his children, managed to grasp it and secure it to the railings.
Had it not been seen and secured it would have probably been wrecked in the powerful and dangerously fast water flowing over Teddington Weir.
But thanks to Lucia's quick thinking, she assumed nothing and her phone call triggered an urgent search, lasting several hours.
It is not uncommon for the lifeboat to launch to drifting boats on this patch of the Thames, which is a meandering stretch between Molesey and Richmond Locks.
I asked Lucia if anyone was aboard and was the engine running? I then called Julian Knott, one of our Deputy Launch Authorities (DLA).
Having discussed the situation with Julian, he notified the Coastguard who task RNLI launches and oversee our rescues at Teddington RNLI. But with the boat secured it was decided not to launch the lifeboat.
The question remained though: where did the speedboat come from?
The boat was first noticed near Broom Road Recreation Ground, but with so much recent rain, the river was flowing faster than usual and the boat could have travelled some distance before being spotted.
I called Tim James, another friend and fellow Teddington helm. Living nearby, he immediately went to the recovered boat.
What he discovered was concerning.
'It looked like someone could have tripped and fallen overboard, kicking in a loudspeaker on the stern of the boat in the process,' he said. 'Were we facing a launch and detailed search for a missing person presumed to have fallen in the river? Not knowing where the boat came from, where would we even begin? Finding the boat owner became a matter of urgency.'
After several hours of detective work led by Tim, he traced a former owner of the boat who in turn put him in touch with the current one.
Everyone was relieved when he was found to be safe and well.
Owner Graham Smith said: 'I was in the middle of home schooling my twins at our flat on Lower Teddington Road and I received the call to say that my boat had been found floating alone on the river.
'I had recently been trying to fix the boat which is usually kept safe in our boathouse but due to the high waters I had to keep it outside. I was shocked but happy to hear that it was safe. Thank you to all involved. A great example of our community getting together and thinking on their feet for the safety of others.'
It would have been all too easy to simply tie up the boat and walk away – even that would have been a good deed done for the day.
Going the extra mile though was our local community at its best. Looking out for someone else’s property and more importantly, their safety and wellbeing is another reason for being so fortunate to live and serve in Teddington.
As we all look forward to emerging from the pandemic in the months ahead, I believe it will be as a stronger and more close-knit community.
Remember, if you should see a person or vessel in distress on the River Thames, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
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, in a normal year, 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.