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.