Heroes of the sea
Yesterday, while out walking on the coastal footpath beside the Helford River, I saw the Falmouth lifeboat practising pick-ups from the water. A brisk north-easterly breeze had created a strong swell on which the stationary lifeboat reared and plunged. Once the final pick-up had been made and everyone was safely below, the coxswain increased power to the two huge engines and the lifeboat gathered speed, creating great clouds of spray that completely hid the boat as it roared through the waves and headed out into the bay on its way back to Falmouth.
Back in the late 1700s – the period in which Devil’s Prize is set, there were no lifeboats. If a boat was in difficulties, rescue for the men aboard depended on another boat being close enough to help. Only too aware of the dangers they faced each time they went to sea, men crewing cargo ships, sailors in the naval fleet, and fishermen rarely learned to swim, reasoning that if their boat went down in a storm or was sunk in battle if there was no immediate chance of rescue it was better to drown quickly.
Watching the lifeboat made me realise that despite the advances in technology that have given us satellite navigation, radar, mobile phones and self-righting life-boats, for anyone in trouble at sea rescue depends ultimately on the courage and selflessness of other men and women, people who - each time there's a "shout" -willing put their own lives at risk in an effort to save others.
Devil's Prize Robert Hale January 2008.
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