Hello Dear Reader,
Thirty years ago, in a hurricane which measured force 12, in winds that measured 90 knots and seas that reached 60 feet high, the crew of the Solomon Browne, all unpaid RNLI volunteers answered the may day call from the coaster The Union Star.
More than a dozen men answered the call and Trevelyan Richards, the coxwain, picked the best eight man crew for the job. He made sure he didn’t take more than one man from any one family. He knew how treacherous the sea conditions were; he knew they might not return.
The helicopter from RNAS Culdrose, with an American pilot called Russell Smith was scrambled and they did everything they could. The Union Star had already lost one anchor and had four shackles of cable out, they couldn’t in any way steady the ship enough for a winchman (Steve Marlow) to be able to get any one off the ship. It wasn’t until the helicopter was above the ship and Russell Smith checked three times in disbelief when he heard there was a woman and two children aboard the coaster. Unable to affect a rescue, it was left the Solomon Browne to try and rescue to crew and passengers.
The Solomon Brown was a 47 feet long Watson Class wooden boat. I want you to look down at your feet and pace out the 47 feet. It’s the size of an average yatch and yet there it was, in a force 12, in 60 feet waves, being thrown around, under the sea most of the time, pitching and rolling, now with her crew on deck with grappling irons trying to get alongside the Union Star.
The helicopter stood down. There was nothing more they could do. The Solomon Brown had managed to get four people off the ship. It looked as if they were about to head for sea and head home…………they didn’t. There were four souls left on that ship and they turned back and tried to get alongside again…………it was then that Falmouth Coast guard lost contact with the Penlee Lifeboat. The maritime call continued “Penlee Lifeboat, Penlee Lifeboat, Falmouth Coastguard. over”. They continued to call for 45 minutes. That call was never answered.
On the 21st December, at 20.12, the Penlee Lifeboat, with an eight man crew, all local men from Mousehole, put to sea. She never returned and all lives of those on the Union Star and the Solomon Brown were lost. To this day, the lifeboat station at Penlee Point stands, untouched as it did that night as a memorial to
Trevelyan Richards, Stephen Madron, Nigel Brockman, John Blewett, Charlie Greenhaugh, Kevin Smith, Barrie Torrie and Gary Wallis.
Their incredible bravery and ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Postscript – You can listen to the news report and the radio contact between Falmouth Coastguard and the Penlee Lifeboat on the links on this page – it’s haunting and, once listened to, will never leave you. Here’s the link to the RNLI