Alastair’s Photo Fiction – The Call of the Sea


The call went out.

All available hands to the station!

At 17 Billy Crabtree was the youngest of those hands. His father was coxswain. The Crabtrees were fiercely proud to have them both on the Mary Bell.

The churning seas which greeted the boat as she crashed down the slipway promised a rough trip. Billy wasn’t worried. He trusted his father to keep them all safe.

The stricken trawler was out of power, out of control. The rocks of Verndale Point were looming. Billy watched his father manoeuvre the Mary Bell into position. One by one the terrified trawler-men were hauled into the lifeboat.

The wave came from nowhere. Everything was swallowed up by a cold, wet shadow. Suddenly there was light. Yards from the rocks a drenched Billy watched as the trawler smashed to pieces. His father skilfully steered his own passage to safety.

Within moments the seas were eerily calm. The Mary Bell turned for home. Just another day in the life of volunteer heroes.

This story is dedicated to the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI). In particular to the memory of the eight crewmen of the Penlee lifeboat who were lost at sea a week before Christmas, 1981. Also not forgetting the eight hands of the coaster MV Union Star who perished despite the fearless efforts of the Penlee Lifeboat crew on that terrible night off of the South Cornish coast. 

penlee lifebaot crew

As well as forming a tribute these 150’ish words also represent my entry into this week’s Photo Fiction challenge on Alastair’s WordPress siteThe picture is copyright of

23 thoughts on “Alastair’s Photo Fiction – The Call of the Sea

      1. Alastair

        I was over the moon. I’m expecting that many this week, would be nice though.

        The lifeboat was out here the other day. A ship went down not far from me. Most of the lives were lost unfortunately. It was immigrants trying to get in illegally. You may have heard about it on the news

  1. freyathewriter

    What an excellent tribute. I live by the sea now, but was born in the Midlands. Visits to the seaside always saw me making a donation to the RNLI as a little girl. I could imagine nothing more dangerous than rescuing people from the sea.

    1. paulmclem Post author

      Cheers Freya. At the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth you can hear the final messages exchanged between the coastguard and the Penlee skipper. Even in such a dangerous situation he was calm and in control. Horrifying to think moments later he and his crew had perished.

  2. Joe Owens

    I don’t recall the story of the Penlee, but it seems the type of story one would expect to hear had you listened to Paul Harvey’s News and Comments radio show that ran for several years including 1981.

  3. zookyworld

    I hadn’t heard about this part of history, so I learned while reading your story — complete with gripping action of the rescue at sea. Nicely done!

  4. Penny L Howe

    Just excellent Paul. For all the right reasons! Well written, a fitting tribute and an outstanding narrative of a true happening in history, involving real people and real heroes, so well done! 🙂


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