Episode 7 Saving Lives at Sea


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Episode 7

Documentary series following the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. When a climber falls in a remote cave on the Gower Peninsula, the Mumbles crew are called in.


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We're an island nation,

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drawn to the sea that surrounds us.

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For many, it's a playground.

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For others, it's where we earn our living.

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But the sea's unpredictable.

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It can change in an instant,

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and when accidents happen, they happen very fast.

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The sea is a dangerous place.

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If you don't respect the sea the sea will bite you.

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There to save our lives is a volunteer army of nearly 5,000 ordinary people,

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ready to leave their jobs, their families to race to our rescue.

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It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up

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to know that if it wasn't for you that person wouldn't be here.

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They rescued me but they also saved a mum, a daughter, sister, a wife.

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Oh, my gosh.

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To see someone disappear under the water right in front of you

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is brutal. It's absolutely horrendous.

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Equipped with their own cameras...

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-Is my light flashing?

-Yeah. Is mine?

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..the crews give us a unique insight into every call out as only they see it.

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Right, there's another little wave.

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Speeding through the roughest weather,

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searching for people who may only have moments to live.

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Can you still hear me?

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For those who risk their lives, it has become a way of life.

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When those pagers go off, it's life and death.

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The Gower Peninsula on the south coast of Wales.

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In 1956 it was designated the UK's first area of outstanding beauty.

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Today, it's a magnet for those seeking fun and adventure.

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I love the sea,

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I love living around it,

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I love walking on the beaches around here.

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It is a great place to sail, surf,

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it is, it's a great place to be on the water.

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But it's not all plain sailing.

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Lifeboat crews here at The Mumbles have been saving lives at sea

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for over 180 years.

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Like every lifeboat station,

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it relies on the close bond formed between its crew.

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Yep, go for it.

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Two members of this particular team are practically inseparable.

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Josh and Morwenna have been a couple for nine years,

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and worked together on lifeboats for the last eight.

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I think we work really well together as a couple.

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We look after each other, we help train each other,

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we talk through our experiences.

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Definitely help to improve each other.

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Our work-life sort of pattern means that we spend a lot of time at home

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together and if we are at home together and the pagers go off

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we're both down at the station at the same time.

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Basically it's a dash for the bikes, who gets the bikes first,

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the other person has to sort the house out, like, if we're cooking,

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someone needs to turn the oven off, make sure the dog's not run out the house after us,

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all those sort of things.

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I guess it has strengthened our relationship

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in the sense that we've gone through things together,

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we know how each other work,

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it brings us closer and helps us work better together.

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For the Mumbles lifeboat crew, the coast here presents year-round challenges,

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with dramatic tides,

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jagged rocks jutting into the sea and sheer cliffs

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rising hundreds of feet out of the water.

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A cold afternoon in April,

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and the Mumbles crew are out on a training exercise

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when they're interrupted by a call for help from the coastguard.

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INDISTINCT RADIO

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A 44-year-old man has fallen while out climbing with friends.

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He sustained serious injuries and, to make matters worse,

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he's somewhere on the remote Gower cliffs

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which are inaccessible by ambulance.

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The initial information was that he had fallen five to ten meters

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and hit the ground.

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We had no idea what condition, whether he was conscious,

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was he breathing, he could have easily died from that height.

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The full extent of the casualty's injuries isn't yet known.

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First, the crew need to find him,

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and the only information they've got to go on

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is that he's fallen in one of the area's many limestone caves.

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We had a general area that it was within the Southgate cliffs but that

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just narrows it down to maybe a mile.

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As a climber myself I did have some ideas where they might be.

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The Tamar lifeboat's hull

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is too deep for the shallow waters near the cliffs

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so the crew scan the coastline from a safe distance.

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Eventually, figures are spotted by the rocks.

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You got it?

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Here.

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Got it?

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As the crews' designated first aiders,

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Josh and Morwenna take the smaller, shallower inshore boat.

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You want to be able to trust the person next to you.

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I think that's vital, really.

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Josh is definitely someone who I'd have around in a crisis.

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I know him, he knows me and I know that he's calm under pressure.

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The Gower cliff's shoreline is reinforced with sharp rocks just below the water's surface.

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See that gully?

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Josh and Morwenna need to find a safe channel through to get as close to the cave entrance as possible.

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As we approached the shoreline there was another climber, who was waving.

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He waved us in so we navigated ourselves through there and scrambled up the rocks to him.

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How're we doing?

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OK, good.

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Right, OK. How long ago did it happen?

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OK.

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The casualty has fallen into a narrow gully,

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but between him and his rescuers, a steep climb over jagged rocks.

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Climbing to the casualty was tricky with the equipment that we're carrying -

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we've got a big first aid kit,

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we have our oxygen bag and also we're climbing around in a dry suit with big wellies on,

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so it's not ideal for climbing on rocks.

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So how high was the fall, then?

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He was still situated sort of four or five meters up on a sort of rock ramp, obviously in a lot of pain.

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Can I pass this down to you? 'My main concern was head injury.

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'Seeing the height he'd fallen, it was a long way,'

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I was worrying about concussion, did he have a bleed on the brain,

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anything that can make his injuries so much worse.

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Sure. Yeah, OK.

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The main thing when we've heard is the head injury,

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that's our main concern that you've fallen.

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I mean, you guys have all seen it, so would you say the leg is the big issue?

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Yeah, OK.

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So your leg is your main worry, is it?

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OK, all right.

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'What we needed to do was stabilise him,'

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make sure he's not going to get any worse so treat his wound on his leg,

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give him oxygen and then start thinking about evacuating him.

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The only pain relief the crew can give is oxygen.

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Anything stronger could mask a change in his condition.

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If he sustained a head injury, he could deteriorate rapidly at any time.

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But with the casualty perched on a ledge, unable to move,

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in a gully just a few meters wide, the only option is an evacuation by coastguard helicopter.

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So they're all trained paramedics, they'll winch when they come down so he'll look after you, OK?

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But getting him up to that helicopter is going to be a complex manoeuvre.

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The helicopter is looking for a safe place to winch down a paramedic.

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All right, buddy, you're doing well.

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It takes a long time, these things, so they've got to suss it out, think where they're going to put him.

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Eventually, a safe spot is found just inside the entrance to the cave.

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He's hit his head as well.

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As you can see, there's a dent in his helmet.

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No.

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So it's a considerable fall.

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The paramedic can finally give the casualty stronger pain relief.

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But getting him out of the gully will be heavy going.

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Yep.

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Hauling the stretcher over the rocks is hard enough when it's empty.

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They'll need to bring it back down again with the casualty on board.

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It's too big a job for the two of them.

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We require more people and we will be winching from further out towards you guys, over.

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While they wait for the second crew,

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they've got to get the casualty into position.

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So, it's going to be a pass down, using the rope as the weight.

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-Yep.

-You help yourself...

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There's obviously dangers moving someone, especially after an injury.

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OK, lower away.

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But we needed to get him into the stretcher and get him out of

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that situation because we can't treat him where he is.

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-Lower away.

-Ow!

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Steady. Keep going.

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-Keep going.

-Is that OK?

-Yeah, that's fine.

-Keep going.

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Keep going. All the way now.

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-That's it - well done.

-There we go, mate.

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It was tense. You know you had to do it but you know you're also going to cause him pain

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in that motion of moving him, but he knows it was going to be for his benefit,

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but it's just one of those things, you do feel for him.

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With the casualty now lying down,

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the paramedic can start to assess and treat his injuries.

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-Argh!

-Where is the worst pain?

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Is it around the cut area?

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-In the knee, yeah.

-Knee?

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Are you able to just let it relax so I can splint it for you?

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HE CRIES OUT

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I'm sorry, mate.

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90 minutes after the alarm was raised,

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the casualty's finally ready to be evacuated.

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But offshore there's a snag.

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The tide's rising and it's delaying the backup team.

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Keep going, keep going.

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Keep going.

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Bit more.

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Getting ashore and getting to the casualty proved a lot trickier

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than it first appeared when we arrived.

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We navigated our way over a number of gullies that were flooded with water

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cos the tide was now coming in at this point.

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You all right?

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'So we developed a sort of floating approach on our backsides.'

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You know if they're asking for you that they're needing a bit of help,

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so, of course, you want to do it, get down there as quick as we could.

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Telling me, myself, I'm having a heart attack!

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With a team of five now in place,

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there's just a final haul over the rocks.

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-Everyone ready?

-Yeah.

-Ready?

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Brace. Lift.

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Steady, steady, steady.

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-OK, continue.

-Somebody get the front.

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We're good there, yeah, we're all right there.

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-This way a bit.

-To you.

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OK. Lower.

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OK?

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-Yeah.

-Everyone happy?

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-Yeah.

-Ready?

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It certainly feels tense, when you're sat in that situation.

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You've got a helicopter hovering 60-70 feet above your head,

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you've got a winchman shouting at that point,

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because the downdraught of the helicopter is so loud.

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You know, it's those situations, whilst they're tense,

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they're also some of the situations that you can sometimes thrive,

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that's what you joined, then you know you're making a difference that day.

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I was quite excited, actually.

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If you've got to come out of a hole,

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what better way to do it than on a winch and a helicopter?

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So yeah, it was quite exciting, actually,

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although probably not fully appreciative of it on the day.

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Paul was climbing the cliff with friends,

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he was just about to secure his rope

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when the bolt he was holding gave way

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and he fell around ten metres into the cave.

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I can remember just that instant of falling back,

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and just knowing that I'd lost it, and then just the next...

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it must've been a second or two,

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just falling and hitting things and being conscious of hitting things on the way down. It was quite surreal.

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Get the bag so it doesn't get caught.

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I guess when you take a fall as a climber,

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the last people you expect to see is the RNLI,

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and they were there so quickly.

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Just to have the professionals around, just very reassuring,

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just to get that immediate first aid,

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and just to be able to see that things were moving.

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The overriding emotion once he was in the helicopter was relief,

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that we'd managed to get him out and he was safe.

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You know that he was going to go to the best care possible.

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I think I was very happy that that situation was not as bad as I think it could have been.

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I'm quite happy with how we managed it

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and how effectively I think we worked together to get him out.

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I guess we learn more about each other with each situation you're placed in, I suppose, yeah.

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Being part of the crew has been a life-changing experience for Josh and Morwenna, in many ways.

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We had a helicopter exercise planned at the RAF

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and Mo was the last person to get winched up into the helicopter.

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So, sat at the back of the helicopter,

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with all the noise and the winchmen looking at us, I had the ring

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tucked away in my pocket, so I proposed to Mo in the helicopter.

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I was last to go up, very clueless, got pulled into the helicopter,

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and, yeah, he asked me to marry him in the helicopter.

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Yeah, it was ace, amazing, yeah, very unexpected,

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didn't expect that one at all,

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and very, very original!

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Around the coast of Britain,

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the sea is woven into the fabric of everyday life.

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On the Isle of Wight you're never far from water,

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and locals and tourists alike make the most of the island's beaches and leisure activities.

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The port town of Yarmouth, on the west coast,

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is home to one of the island's three lifeboat stations.

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Maritime artist Robert has been a key member of the team for over two decades.

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The RNLI station in Yarmouth is very near to my studio,

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and seeing the lads run past the window was just too much,

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I had to go and join in.

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So 23 years ago I signed up,

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started the training and I've been a member of Yarmouth Lifeboat ever since.

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Like the rest of the 22-strong crew,

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Robert has to be prepared to drop everything at a moment's notice.

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The big difficulty is if you're doing a watercolour, oh, dear,

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if that stops halfway through you can spoil a wash.

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On average, Yarmouth Lifeboat crew respond to around 50 call-outs each year.

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These waters are highly unpredictable, even for the locals.

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It's very, very strong tides around here.

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You've got a very narrow point on the Solent.

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And there's a lot of rocks poking out, ledges,

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and you've got the notorious Needles.

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There's also a big shingle bank near the Needles as well,

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so there's a lot of places for boats to hit rocks and run aground.

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With so many potential hazards and with strong winds coming off

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the English Channel, any day can turn deadly serious.

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SIREN

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I'm sat quietly in my gallery and the pager goes off.

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Down with the paintbrush, out with my notice, "Sorry, out with the lifeboat", and we're away.

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The crew have been told to head towards the Needles rocks on the island's west coast.

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All we know at this stage is that there's a vessel in trouble in the

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region of the Needles and immediate assistance is required.

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A Dutch yacht's rudder has broken,

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leaving the crew powerless to control her steering.

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She's now drifting in some of the island's most dangerous waters,

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near the notorious shingles bank.

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Any boat that's broken down or in difficulty in that area,

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it's always a big consideration that you want to get there quite quickly,

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cos if they're not going to get swept on a shingle bank,

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they could potentially get swept onto the Needles,

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which would be even worse.

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The shifting bank of shingle lies unseen under the water.

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It has caused dozens of accidents in the last ten years - the majority, boats which have run aground.

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If a vessel hits the shingle bank under these conditions,

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they can turn on their side,

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fill up with water and be sunk in a matter of minutes.

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On a good day the area can be reached in 15 minutes,

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but today the crew are battling the weather.

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There's a fair bit of water coming over the top of the lifeboat.

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We're now starting to feel the weight of the weather.

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The cox is not messing about and if this situation is going

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to deteriorate, we need to be there as soon as possible.

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After 20 minutes at 20 knots, the crew arrive at the scene.

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The rudderless Dutch yacht is being tossed around.

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Beneath the water, the shallows of the shingles bank are just a stone's throw away.

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Obviously the risks are quite high for this vessel,

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because the waves get steeper and steeper

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as the water gets shallower and shallower.

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The boat was sideways on to the swell,

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so they were really rocking

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and going back and forth quite heavily -

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you could see the underside of their boat.

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It wouldn't have been very pleasant being on the yacht.

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Unable to control his boat,

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the yacht's skipper has dropped anchor to keep him out of the shallows.

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In these conditions, there's a real danger it could break or come loose.

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There's a lot of weight going on that anchor line.

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This could go quite quickly to a dangerous situation

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if that anchor line parted or if the anchor suddenly started dragging.

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We are really well focused at this point.

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In these conditions, there's no margin for error.

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The crew must carefully assess the situation before acting decisively.

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On any lifeboat, the final decision rests with the coxswain.

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Howard decides the best plan is to attempt to hold his position so they can land a tow rope on the yacht.

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It did rely upon the skill of the coxswain to manoeuvre the lifeboat close enough for this to work.

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He's got to control a 48-tonne boat.

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He's reversing against the weather, against the tide, against the wind,

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and holding it close enough to get the line by hand across to a casualty vessel.

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That takes a particular amount of skill and nerve to get that done successfully.

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With the lifeboat in position,

0:21:190:21:21

the pressure's now on Kevin to throw the rope accurately to the Dutch skipper.

0:21:210:21:26

The crew stand outside the safety rail to give him an unobstructed aim.

0:21:260:21:30

If you mess it up,

0:21:300:21:33

and the rope you throw gets tangled or you miss,

0:21:330:21:36

it's going to take a little while to recover the line, coil it back up again.

0:21:360:21:40

So you're talking time you don't really have to mess about,

0:21:430:21:46

so you need to make sure that you get it there first time and it works.

0:21:460:21:49

Luckily, I did it first time,

0:21:580:22:00

got it on the right spot,

0:22:000:22:02

and the man on board the yacht managed to pull the tow line across.

0:22:020:22:05

With the two boats now joined together,

0:22:050:22:08

the lifeboat needs to get them both clear of danger.

0:22:080:22:11

We established a bow-to-bow tow because that was the safest way

0:22:110:22:14

to get them clear of the shallow areas of the shingle back.

0:22:140:22:18

Bow-to-bow tow comprises, obviously,

0:22:180:22:19

putting the tow line from our bow to the casualty vessel's bow.

0:22:190:22:22

Towing from the front of the lifeboat keeps the propeller and rudders

0:22:220:22:26

at the back clear of the hidden dangers in the shallow water below.

0:22:260:22:31

Effectively, the lifeboat then backs away from the shallow water and then

0:22:310:22:34

we revert back to a standard stern tow once we're in clear water.

0:22:340:22:39

With the situation under control,

0:22:410:22:43

the crew tow the yacht back to the safety of Yarmouth Harbour.

0:22:430:22:47

These were experienced sailors which just had an accident but they dealt with it very well.

0:22:510:22:57

They prevented themselves getting further into trouble

0:22:570:22:59

by getting that anchor over promptly,

0:22:590:23:01

so it did give everybody breathing time to get in there and help them.

0:23:010:23:06

Fortunately, their English was very good. It's a lot better than my Dutch.

0:23:070:23:11

Last year, around half of all RNLI launches were in response to pleasure seekers

0:23:140:23:19

finding themselves out of their depth.

0:23:190:23:22

-Right, guys.

-Whatever the nature of the call-out,

0:23:220:23:25

crews have to treat each job on its merits and with the same level of professionalism.

0:23:250:23:30

Yeah, we do occasionally roll our eyes when we see a situation

0:23:310:23:35

that could have been avoided

0:23:350:23:37

by somebody but, really, ours isn't to judge.

0:23:370:23:40

We're there to go out when we're tasked to, to help people at sea,

0:23:400:23:44

and help them the best we can.

0:23:440:23:46

If we were to tow the same fishing boat back four times in one week,

0:23:490:23:52

then we would probably give them a bit of food for thought

0:23:520:23:55

to go away with.

0:23:550:23:56

But the chances are it's nothing we haven't done before and it's certainly nothing we won't do again.

0:23:560:24:01

People think they can just go and buy a jet ski, a kayak,

0:24:010:24:05

and just go off and do what they want to do,

0:24:050:24:07

and ultimately you have to treat the sea with respect.

0:24:070:24:10

I think that's a big factor that people often don't realise,

0:24:100:24:13

that the sea is very, very powerful and will always win.

0:24:130:24:16

You've got no idea why they're in the position that they're in.

0:24:180:24:20

Oh, I'm sorry about that.

0:24:200:24:22

That's all right, don't worry.

0:24:220:24:24

So we offer our support to absolutely everyone

0:24:240:24:26

in any circumstance.

0:24:260:24:27

Stay there.

0:24:270:24:28

Accidents are called accidents for a reason.

0:24:280:24:31

You know, it happens, it happens to the best of us.

0:24:310:24:33

I hope I never have to call the orange boat out to get me.

0:24:330:24:35

That would just be the worst day for me.

0:24:350:24:38

Not sure I could afford the round afterwards.

0:24:380:24:40

When it comes to leisure activities,

0:24:470:24:49

Southend-on-Sea is Essex's number one tourist destination.

0:24:490:24:54

The town is renowned for its amusement parks and arcades,

0:24:540:24:58

the world's longest pleasure pier and its wide range of watersports.

0:24:580:25:02

The beaches in the summer are full of thousands of people.

0:25:040:25:06

There's sailing clubs dotted up and down,

0:25:060:25:08

people in dinghies,

0:25:080:25:10

there's jet skis launching at Thorpe Bay.

0:25:100:25:12

Kite surfing's very popular in Southend.

0:25:120:25:14

On a nice day you can see

0:25:140:25:15

up to 60 or 70 kites out in one go.

0:25:150:25:18

You've got a real mix of people, craft and water users.

0:25:190:25:23

But there's a serious side to this seaside town, too.

0:25:250:25:28

Sitting at the end of the Thames Estuary,

0:25:280:25:31

Southend's coastline and tidal conditions present a range of challenges.

0:25:310:25:36

The river's always changing. The gutterways are always moving.

0:25:360:25:38

The mud, you get soft mud, you get hard mud.

0:25:380:25:41

The tide moves fast.

0:25:410:25:42

It comes across the mud really quickly.

0:25:420:25:44

It's very interchangeable.

0:25:440:25:46

The estuary's ever-changing tide means that Southend has a lifeboat station at either end of the pier,

0:25:480:25:54

with different boats to cope with any eventuality.

0:25:540:25:57

To cover the distance between the two stations,

0:25:570:26:00

the crew have come up with their own ingenious solution.

0:26:000:26:03

We've got two, sort of, purpose-built lifeboat buggies.

0:26:070:26:10

They're basically golf buggies converted into what the RNLI wanted,

0:26:110:26:16

and because the pier's obviously a public pier, there's always mums,

0:26:160:26:19

pushchairs, people everywhere,

0:26:190:26:21

so we've got headlights for when it's dark.

0:26:210:26:23

We've got indicators, which is a nice feature.

0:26:230:26:26

Not... It is a straight pier, so...

0:26:260:26:27

We've got blue lights on it so people can see it's an emergency vehicle.

0:26:270:26:31

It's not overly quick but it's quick enough.

0:26:310:26:33

It's quicker than walking.

0:26:330:26:35

The summer months are the busiest in Southend, but die-hard thrill seekers

0:26:360:26:41

will head out on the water, whatever the weather, at any time of the year.

0:26:410:26:46

SIRENS

0:26:460:26:49

Mid-December, a mile offshore, a kite surfer has got into difficulty.

0:26:510:26:56

The tide is rapidly going out and there's a danger of him being swept out to sea.

0:26:560:27:01

Ground zero...

0:27:030:27:05

INDISTINCT TALK ON RADIO

0:27:090:27:14

It was actually quite a nice day, the sun was out.

0:27:180:27:21

It was almost a bit deceptive,

0:27:210:27:22

because actually it was mid-December. I knew the water was going to be cold

0:27:220:27:27

and it looked more pleasant than perhaps it actually was.

0:27:270:27:30

Anyone in the water in December is generally not good.

0:27:400:27:43

At that time of year, you don't get a long time in the water.

0:27:450:27:49

Hypothermia can soon set in and the job goes downhill rapidly from then.

0:27:490:27:53

Every second counts, really.

0:27:550:27:57

We didn't know how long this guy had been out for.

0:27:570:27:59

The tide was ebbing.

0:27:590:28:01

It was going out.

0:28:010:28:02

So, you know, if he'd launched at the start of the tide he could have been out for two or three hours.

0:28:020:28:06

Essentially, if he's in the water he would just be basically drifting to France.

0:28:090:28:13

The casualty's friends have given the coastguard a location where he was last seen.

0:28:290:28:34

But the information isn't precise,

0:28:340:28:36

and in the ten minutes since they called,

0:28:360:28:38

the casualty could have drifted further out.

0:28:380:28:41

Over, coastguard, Southend ILB2, we're now on the scene at Barge Pier,

0:28:410:28:45

do you have a rough distance from shore, over?

0:28:450:28:48

There wasn't a great visibility for a lot of miles,

0:28:480:28:50

so if it was going to turn into anything more serious we would have been thinking about who else to call

0:28:500:28:55

and another way of locating the man.

0:28:550:28:57

But just as the search area widens, the crew make a breakthrough.

0:28:590:29:03

'Southend ILB2, this is Dover coastguard,

0:29:060:29:09

'we just had a call...'

0:29:090:29:11

INDISTINCT RADIO CHATTER

0:29:110:29:13

One of the crewmen in the front of the boat,

0:29:150:29:17

he saw the casualty first and he pointed out to where he was.

0:29:170:29:20

The guy's kite was still inflated,

0:29:200:29:23

so I think that was the obvious marker as to where he was.

0:29:230:29:26

The casualty's kite can be seen floating in the water.

0:29:260:29:30

The crew need to find out if he's still attached to it.

0:29:300:29:33

He'd travelled about another mile from where he was first positioned,

0:29:390:29:43

so he'd gone quite a long way in a short space of time.

0:29:430:29:45

When we got to him he was holding on to a post or a pole in the water,

0:29:490:29:52

and it was just his head above the water.

0:29:520:29:55

Dover coastguard, Dover coastguard...

0:29:560:29:58

Well, I was quite surprised. The pole is the size of a telegraph pole,

0:29:580:30:01

and it's in the middle of the Thames Estuary.

0:30:010:30:05

The way the tide runs,

0:30:050:30:06

the wind and tide just would have kept dragging him down, down the river, basically,

0:30:060:30:11

and it's just how he managed to get hold of this pole...

0:30:110:30:14

He must have just been lucky to drift past it, in my eyes.

0:30:140:30:17

Dover coastguard, Dover coastguard, Southend ILB2.

0:30:170:30:19

Now on scene with casualty, over.

0:30:190:30:22

The pole has potentially saved the man's life but with the kite still

0:30:230:30:26

attached to him, getting him out of the water isn't a straightforward operation.

0:30:260:30:32

When you approach a kite surfer you have to take into consideration where his kite is,

0:30:320:30:35

where his lines might be in the water,

0:30:350:30:37

what other stuff he's got in the water around him.

0:30:370:30:39

And there's also, you know, why he's in the water in the first place.

0:30:390:30:42

The kite strings are wrapped tightly around the man's legs,

0:30:530:30:56

restricting his mobility and leaving him powerless in the water.

0:30:560:31:00

All right?

0:31:030:31:04

All right?

0:31:070:31:10

When we got him in the boat, I was shocked as to how many turns he had round

0:31:130:31:16

his leg. I still, to this day, can't understand how he did it.

0:31:160:31:20

Because he was really caught up.

0:31:200:31:21

Sit there.

0:31:210:31:23

The kite surfer is 58-year-old businessman Terry.

0:31:320:31:36

The thing came off...

0:31:360:31:37

I saw this post in the water,

0:31:370:31:39

I'm not sure why it's there.

0:31:390:31:41

I thought, "I have to get to this post."

0:31:410:31:43

If I didn't I would have been in the middle of Channel, going out to...

0:31:440:31:51

I could have been in Holland.

0:31:510:31:53

Terry has been kite surfing for over ten years,

0:31:550:31:58

but on this occasion he was caught out by the weather.

0:31:580:32:01

Everything was perfect, until I had malfunction on my kite.

0:32:020:32:08

My kite dropped in the water.

0:32:080:32:10

At same time, suddenly, the wind dropped.

0:32:100:32:14

So, if you haven't got wind, you cannot get the kite up in the air again.

0:32:140:32:21

Thanks to the wooden post, and a large slice of luck,

0:32:210:32:24

Terry was soon heading back to dry land.

0:32:240:32:27

Dover coastguard, Southend ILB2, we have the casualty aboard and we're taking him to Uncle Tom's, over.

0:32:280:32:34

I was hoping that they was going to drop me

0:32:340:32:36

somewhere where there was no people,

0:32:360:32:39

but unfortunately they had to take you where hundreds of people watching you, being rescued.

0:32:390:32:46

I was grateful but it was embarrassing.

0:32:470:32:50

From the dramatic tides of the Thames Estuary,

0:32:560:32:59

to the breathtaking scenery of North Cornwall's wild Atlantic coast.

0:32:590:33:04

The landscape here is carved by the ocean and feels its full force all year round.

0:33:060:33:13

Like many of the picturesque towns and villages along this coast,

0:33:130:33:17

Portreath attracts thousands of visitors each summer.

0:33:170:33:20

The beach is a favourite for families and surfers, but it has its dangers, too.

0:33:200:33:27

The sea can change very quickly.

0:33:270:33:30

You could arrive on the morning to

0:33:300:33:33

very small, flat surf.

0:33:330:33:34

Within a few hours the surf can double, treble in size.

0:33:340:33:39

For the last nine years,

0:33:390:33:40

Andy Thomas has supervised the beach's lifeguard station.

0:33:400:33:44

He runs a team of eight lifeguards, which is bolstered by young recruits in the busy summer months.

0:33:440:33:49

Recruits are getting younger and I'm definitely the father figure.

0:33:510:33:55

I like to think they can come to me and, you know, ask me anything.

0:33:550:33:58

Yeah, I look after them.

0:33:580:34:01

August, perfect weather for a day on the beach,

0:34:010:34:05

but out at sea, a storm is brewing.

0:34:050:34:07

The Met Office has issued a yellow weather warning for Devon and Cornwall

0:34:070:34:11

with some coastal areas possibly facing gusts of up to 60mph.

0:34:110:34:15

The heavy winds are not forecast to arrive until the evening.

0:34:150:34:19

A national life-saving competition is going ahead on the beach as planned.

0:34:190:34:23

It was a surf life-saving event.

0:34:230:34:26

Competitors from around the country were racing.

0:34:260:34:29

The beach was fairly busy and averagely small day of surf but there was

0:34:290:34:35

a large swell predicted to build throughout the day.

0:34:350:34:37

Amongst the competitors is one of Portreath's very own young lifeguards,

0:34:370:34:42

16-year-old Nick.

0:34:420:34:43

Life-saving is a sport which simulates lifeguarding.

0:34:440:34:49

There's different races which involve tube rescue, board rescue,

0:34:490:34:52

mass rescue, single rescue, speed.

0:34:520:34:55

There's sand races, beach sprints.

0:34:550:34:59

There's a really good atmosphere.

0:34:590:35:00

Everyone's kind of buzzing and they're all up for racing.

0:35:000:35:03

You know, there's a lot of competitors on the beach.

0:35:030:35:05

But with the competition still in full swing,

0:35:080:35:10

the predicted storm arrives earlier, and with greater force than expected.

0:35:100:35:15

We was watching the competition and the heats,

0:35:180:35:21

and roughly around 4:30 in the afternoon,

0:35:210:35:25

a large set of waves began to break.

0:35:250:35:28

The sea conditions changed really, really quick,

0:35:300:35:34

going from two foot to ten foot.

0:35:340:35:36

It doesn't usually build that quick,

0:35:370:35:38

and the conditions turned quite dangerous quite quickly.

0:35:380:35:42

The waves got so big,

0:35:420:35:44

to the extent that we had to call off

0:35:440:35:46

the surf life-saving competition.

0:35:460:35:49

We made the decision right there and then, we're going to close the beach.

0:35:490:35:52

Red flags are put out.

0:35:520:35:55

The sea is now out of bounds for swimmers.

0:35:550:35:57

Red flagging the beach is the very last resort,

0:35:590:36:02

something we don't enjoy doing, but it's all down to safety,

0:36:020:36:06

public safety. Some people know the dangers, know the consequences,

0:36:060:36:11

but some... There's the small minority that think it's still OK to go in the water.

0:36:110:36:18

Despite the clear warnings,

0:36:200:36:22

the lifeguards are amazed to see two teenage boys venture towards the breaking waves.

0:36:220:36:27

I was down on the water's edge, really.

0:36:270:36:30

I was just about to go home and I saw them approaching the water

0:36:300:36:34

and I just thought, maybe I'll watch them for the next couple of minutes,

0:36:340:36:37

and then a big surge came up and took both of them out.

0:36:370:36:41

One of them managed to get out of the sea,

0:36:420:36:45

yet one of them went out really, really quick.

0:36:450:36:47

He just got dragged out backwards in a big rip current.

0:36:470:36:51

This person is in a lot of trouble, he's in danger.

0:36:510:36:54

Nick was on the beach, he was the nearest to the water,

0:36:540:36:57

he turned and looked up the top, he looked for approval,

0:36:570:37:00

saying, "Shall I go?" And I gave him the thumbs up.

0:37:000:37:03

The unfolding events are caught on camera by two bystanders.

0:37:050:37:09

Nick, followed by his colleague Harry,

0:37:090:37:12

grab their boards and run into the waves.

0:37:120:37:15

The boy is caught in a rip current - a powerful, narrow channel of water,

0:37:150:37:19

which is pulling rapidly out to sea.

0:37:190:37:21

It was difficult to be able to get out there.

0:37:210:37:24

It was like being in a washing machine,

0:37:240:37:26

there was waves coming in from different angles.

0:37:260:37:28

It was a very angry sea, very unpredictable.

0:37:290:37:32

It was quite obvious to the eye that that area of water was probably the most dangerous place to be.

0:37:330:37:39

There was a very real chance that we could get hurt.

0:37:390:37:42

When we got out there he was saying, "I'm fine, I'm fine".

0:37:430:37:47

He was actually facing out to sea and I just said, "Look, turn around,

0:37:470:37:51

"you're 100 metres out, you've only been in for 30 seconds".

0:37:510:37:54

As soon as that happened,

0:37:560:37:58

he started to panic and he scrambled on my board as quickly as he could, really.

0:37:580:38:02

When he was on my board, I turned around and just saw this ten foot wave coming towards me.

0:38:080:38:13

We lost the board and with the impact of the wave, that pushed us under.

0:38:240:38:30

There's so much turbulence, so much moving water,

0:38:330:38:36

that's when you start to panic a little bit.

0:38:360:38:39

It felt like a couple of minutes but actually it was only seconds.

0:38:390:38:42

Nick tries to cling on to the casualty,

0:38:420:38:45

but the power of the waves prises them apart.

0:38:450:38:47

Luckily, Harry was there to back me up and Harry still had his board.

0:38:560:39:00

The casualty was panicking, but I knew I had to control the situation,

0:39:040:39:08

so I very firmly told him to get on my board and everything's going to be OK.

0:39:080:39:13

I knew that if I lost the board,

0:39:210:39:23

they would have to send the lifeboat over, because there was no way that

0:39:230:39:27

we were going to get in otherwise.

0:39:270:39:29

Without his board, Nick faces his own battle to make it back to shore.

0:39:310:39:36

When you don't have a board, you have to duck underneath the waves,

0:39:380:39:42

so you could be swimming in for five minutes and then you see

0:39:420:39:46

a wave coming and you've got to go, turn around,

0:39:460:39:48

duck under and then start swimming in again.

0:39:480:39:50

That was probably the most difficult swim back to shore I've ever done,

0:39:530:39:56

just because there were so many currents, so many big waves.

0:39:560:39:59

Nick finally makes it out of the water.

0:39:590:40:02

Behind him, Harry and the boy are tantalisingly close,

0:40:020:40:06

but the rip current keeps dragging them back out to sea.

0:40:060:40:09

The boy is close to exhaustion.

0:40:150:40:17

As the next big wave hits them, Harry grabs him...

0:40:170:40:20

..and hauls him out.

0:40:230:40:24

When we got back to shore the boy was quite, like, scared, I think.

0:40:290:40:33

He didn't really say much, he sort of just walked off.

0:40:330:40:36

He seemed quite shocked.

0:40:360:40:38

I don't think at the time he quite realised how dangerous of an action that he'd taken.

0:40:390:40:47

The storm that hit Portreath was part of a bigger storm

0:40:470:40:51

that claimed the lives of six people in the seas around Britain.

0:40:510:40:54

That night when we got back home and we looked on the news and it was only ten miles up the coast

0:40:560:41:01

up at Newquay that people had lost their lives in the sea,

0:41:010:41:05

in the same storm,

0:41:050:41:06

which really makes you aware that these conditions

0:41:060:41:09

and this rescue could have been a lot more different.

0:41:090:41:12

I'm very proud of the lifeguards, proud of their effort,

0:41:130:41:17

their confidence in those conditions,

0:41:170:41:20

and proud of the complete lack of hesitation.

0:41:200:41:24

They were just thinking,

0:41:240:41:25

"I'm going to help this person, I'm going to save this person",

0:41:250:41:29

and they went in and they achieved that.

0:41:290:41:32

Lifeguards and lifeboat crews put their lives on the line to rescue

0:41:380:41:42

daredevils and adrenaline junkies who find themselves in a spot of bother.

0:41:420:41:47

But when it comes to thrill-seekers, perhaps it takes one to know one.

0:41:470:41:52

Anyone can go and play golf, anyone go and can kick a football,

0:41:540:41:57

not everyone has the opportunity to

0:41:570:41:59

roll out of bed in the middle of the night and jump on a £2.8 million lifeboat.

0:41:590:42:04

It's certainly high-octane,

0:42:050:42:07

driving a jet boat through the centre of London can certainly be

0:42:070:42:10

challenging and exciting, there's no two ways about it.

0:42:100:42:14

It's certainly an enjoyable thing to do.

0:42:140:42:17

Once you've joined and it becomes part of you,

0:42:190:42:23

it's always that adrenaline buzz

0:42:230:42:24

and it's just the experience that you'll never get again.

0:42:240:42:29

I definitely feel without call-outs and without the adrenaline

0:42:300:42:34

and without the danger that comes with it all,

0:42:340:42:37

something would be missing, definitely.

0:42:370:42:40

Yeah, of course I understand why people do dangerous sports,

0:42:410:42:44

because of the thrill. People say why do you do the RNLI?

0:42:440:42:46

It's because of the thrill, isn't it?!

0:42:460:42:48

Three, two, one...

0:42:510:42:54

For the lifeboat crews on the Isle of Wight and for thousands of sailors,

0:42:550:43:00

the most thrilling event in the island's calendar is the annual Round The Island Race.

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You can get anything up to 1,800 boats in it,

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it's probably the biggest race in the UK for yachts.

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From high-speed modern trimarans to classic yachts,

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sailors of all abilities come from all over the world to take on the 50 nautical mile course.

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If you imagine that there could be anything from four to ten people

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on each boat, that's a huge number of people at sea,

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all trying to get round the island in the shortest possible time.

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There are different challenges at every turn -

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strong cross tides and underwater obstacles around the Needles,

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shallow waters around Ryde Sands

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and the rough open sea of the English Channel.

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With the amount of people involved in this race,

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it's not IF there's going to be a problem,

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it is WHEN there's going to be a problem.

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It's all hands on deck for the Yarmouth crew.

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They're out on the water from the start of the race at 5:30am,

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and an all action day is guaranteed.

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It is certainly the busiest day of the year.

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For us, it's a whole day's work.

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You don't see them all as shouts because they kind of roll on,

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one to another to another to another, so dismastings, lost rudders.

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We've had people who've had sunstroke.

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We've had quite a few boats that have sunk.

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Head injuries, more dismastings.

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We never quite know what to expect until the day unfolds.

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Even in calm weather, the race is a test for the most experienced sailors.

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For the Yarmouth crew, conditions during the 2016 race were some of the most difficult they'd faced.

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The weather was horrendous.

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It was windy - it was very, very windy.

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I think we topped out 44-49 knots on the south of the island in wind, and it was just carnage.

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There was an awful lot of boats having an awful lot of problems.

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1:00pm - the crew have already responded to a number of small incidents

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when they get the most serious alert possible.

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'This is Solent Coastguard.

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'Sea launch, Mayday.

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'A station with a man overboard calling Mayday.

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'This is the Solent Coastguard.'

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Mayday means a life-threatening situation.

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One of the yachtsman in the race has been thrown overboard.

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You don't know what kind of equipment they've got on,

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you might hope that they've got waterproofs on and a life jacket,

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but they might not. They haven't jumped in,

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if they've been knocked in, if they've got a bash on the head.

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Anyone who's man overboard,

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it's an immediate mayday, and time is of the essence.

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It's not just the conditions of the sea that are putting the man's life in danger.

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The other boats in the race, they are all around,

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but may not be aware that the person is in the water near them.

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So, suddenly, it's like potentially being in the middle of a motorway.

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You've got so many boats coming down through.

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It's not a great place to be overboard, in the Round The Island Race.

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The man was last seen just past St Catherine's Point,

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the halfway mark in the race.

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He's already spent 15 minutes in a big swell with racing boats speeding past him.

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But he won't be easy to spot.

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Finding the person when it's that crowded, when, as I say,

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you've got 1,800 boats going around in one race...

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it is difficult.

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It was quite difficult establishing the exact location.

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We were getting different reports coming from different yachts.

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People were panicking and not necessarily giving the correct information on positions.

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'Can you give me your vessel's name again?'

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'Are you able to respond?'

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So, the coastguard was struggling to establish exactly what had happened and where it was.

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Eventually, amongst the boats racing past,

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a flare is spotted out on the water.

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INDISTINCT SPEECH

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As soon as you see him in the water,

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your eyes are fixed on him. You're not going to let him go.

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You know, if you're the guy that's recovering him or putting the strap on him,

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your eyes aren't anywhere else but on him.

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At that point, you're not looking at the flare, you're not looking at other boats.

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You're not looking at your fellow crew. You've got your eyes on him.

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He was floating quite low in the water because he only had a buoyancy aid on,

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so it was just literally a small,

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very worried-looking head bobbing around in the sea.

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As far as his actual life being in danger at that time, we assumed it was.

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We have no way of knowing how physically robust the person is

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until we actually get him on board and can carry out an assessment.

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The crew now have the challenge of lifting the casualty from heaving waves to the heaving deck above.

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The swell was very big,

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so when the lifeboat goes up,

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when we're on top of a 1.5m-2.5m wave,

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suddenly we're a lot higher than the guy is.

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The first step is to attach a harness to winch him out of the water.

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You've got to try and pass this strop around him.

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We can't rely on him having the strength to do it himself.

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If your hands have been in saltwater for five minutes they're slippery as anything,

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and I couldn't hold on to him. He was just too heavy,

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too water-soaked to hang on to.

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My initial worry then was the lifeboat could come down on him.

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So it was a case of grab him and grab him quickly.

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And when he came back up, luckily, I managed to grab him and clip him in.

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A lull in the waves gives the crew a chance to get the man onto the lifeboat.

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After almost half an hour in the water his ordeal is almost over.

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The rescued man is Nick,

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an experienced sailor with nearly 50 years at sea under his belt.

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It's pretty undignified being pulled up on a winch,

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like a bag of spuds.

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But you're very relieved to be pulled out of the water one way or another.

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I was desperate to get on my feet on the deck

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and feel like a human being.

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I was very pleased to see them, yeah.

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It was a relief to get out of the water.

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Our first assessment was that he was actually in pretty good shape,

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considering the ordeal he'd gone through.

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Nick's crew had been taking the tricky racing conditions in their stride,

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but everything changed in an instant.

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We were sailing downwind, almost on a dead run, and there was a big bang,

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and the boat is tipped over very violently.

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Four out of five of us were pitched into the water.

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The boat's rudder had broken,

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and even though the other crewmates managed to clamber back on board,

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they had no way of steering the boat back to him.

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Nick was cut adrift.

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You feel very isolated.

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We were two miles offshore,

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so, you know, I was in the middle of the sea.

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You do feel pretty vulnerable because you are just a head sticking out.

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But there's very little you can do in that kind of situation

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but bob around.

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And I suddenly became aware that there was a large orange boat bearing down on me.

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And that was a very, very welcome sight, of course.

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With Nick safe and sound,

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the crew now have a rudderless boat to chase down.

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It's a great relief to see the boys, they were OK.

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It's no doubt that, on reflection,

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you know, it was a life-threatening situation.

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And we got away with it.

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Back on the south coast of Wales,

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the Mumbles crew have their own challenging sea to deal with.

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The Mumbles is within the Bristol Channel and the Bristol Channel

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has the second biggest tidal range in the world.

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So, we can have tides up to ten metres high.

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We have big swells that come off the Atlantic, the big tidal flows,

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when it squeezes through the islands around the headlands,

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we get rough seas there. So it's a pretty treacherous part of water.

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Last year, the Mumbles was Wales' busiest lifeboat station, with 83 call-outs.

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There are a lot of people out there who do underestimate the sea, how fast the tide can come in.

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You may think it looks quite a benign day, and then,

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within no time, you can have fast currents

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or the waves can pick up and you can get caught out very easily.

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Mid April.

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SIREN

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A call comes through from the coastguard that a dog has bitten off more than it can chew.

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On my arrival to the station the information we got given was that there was a dog cut-off on a rock.

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His owners were on the shore but they couldn't reach him.

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The mischievous mutt has run off from his owners while out on a walk.

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He's now marooned on a rock in Langland Bay,

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about a mile and a half from the lifeboat station.

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My concerns, really, were for the position that the dog might be in,

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how precarious it was, what our access was like,

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were there rocks in the way, how the tide was working.

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The concern isn't just for the dog.

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In these situations there's always a danger that owners will take matters into their own hands.

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We launch for animals mainly because we all like animals to be safe,

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but also we're thinking about their owners.

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You could see how people in that situation

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really want to help their dog, but I think it's important that you don't take that risk.

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I think... Can you see some light on the point there?

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That might be the owners.

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When we got on scene, you could see the rock prominent out of the water

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with a little terrier on it, and I could see the owners.

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One of them was down on the water's edge at the base of that cliff, calling their dog.

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-What's your dog's name?

-Charlie.

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Charlie? He looks pretty keen to get on.

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He's quite adventurous,

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he's always the one to wander off and he absolutely loves the sea.

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After swimming a few hundred metres,

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Charlie has taken refuge on a rock close to the cliffs.

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The tide is turning and if he attempts to swim across the narrow channel to the shore,

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the fast flowing water could sweep him out to sea.

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You can probably put the bow on it.

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I was panicking, I was absolutely...

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beside myself with worry.

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I started taking my shoes and socks off because I wanted to go in and get him.

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By now he was shivering,

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he looked like he kept wandering to the edge of the cliff,

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about to dive back in the water,

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which I thought would be the absolute worst thing he could do.

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Aboard the lifeboat,

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they need to come up with a plan to navigate the rocky outcrop

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and evacuate the canine casualty.

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We discussed as a crew what was the best approach,

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how could we pick up the dog safely and then we chose myself to go ashore and pick up the dog.

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Josh has a dog of his own so I thought it would be

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best to put Josh on the rock and let him deal with it.

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You can put...sit the bow on it, slowly and then put the power on.

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If my dog was in trouble, I would want someone to come and help it.

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Charlie. Come here.

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Basically, the boat was driven up to the rock so I could step off.

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Hello, Charlie. Come here, then.

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Hello.

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Charlie just went straight towards them.

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He was clearly really pleased to see them.

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Come on, then. Come here.

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'Said hello, picked him up and we jumped aboard again.'

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Hello, boy.

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Rescued from his private island,

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Charlie gets a special escort back to the beach for a family reunion.

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Oh, yes, it was such a great relief.

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It was that kind of half angry, half pleased, to be honest.

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Good boy.

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But, yeah, as soon as we saw him, he got lots of hugs and kisses.

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That's all right, no worries.

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He just gave up ten foot too short!

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-Thanks.

-No worries.

-Thanks a lot.

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The owner definitely looked pleased,

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if not maybe a little bit embarrassed.

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For your information, the dog's safely ashore with its owner and we're returning to station, over.

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I don't feel that frustrated with any sort of call out,

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especially animals. They don't know the dangers, they don't understand,

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and I'm just glad it was a happy ending.

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Climber Paul spent three weeks in hospital recovering from his broken leg.

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He's now up and about again and planning a climbing trip to Greece.

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I've booked a flight to Kalymnos in October.

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In fact, I'd already booked it before the accident,

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and I haven't cancelled it.

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My aim is to get fit again and, yeah, get some good climbs,

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and some good routes in Kalymnos, in October, so, that's my aim.

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Man overboard Nick had a unique gift to thank the Yarmouth crew for rescuing him.

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They give you a tankard for completing the Round The Island

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and you get it whether you complete it or not,

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so, we didn't complete it so I thought they probably deserved it more than me.

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He said he didn't go around the island, we did, so he sent it to us, which was a lovely gesture.

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Having done the Round The Island Race, so many times with the lifeboat,

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having followed that fleet all the way round,

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to actually have a tankard to say we've done it was quite nice.

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We're human beings.

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We're not superheroes.

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Just exposed to situations most people wouldn't be exposed to.

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All right, buddy? I was worried he was going to have a heart attack.

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He just looked, at that stage like he'd either had one or was going to have one.

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When you've got that person in the water, literally seconds count.

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One, two, three.

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Come on!

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Every day around the UK, an army of unpaid volunteers put their lives on the line to try and save complete strangers. Saving Lives at Sea tells the story of the ordinary men and women of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) who, across the country, are ready to launch their boats and race to the rescue within minutes of a cry for help - 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, whatever the weather. Using footage shot on crews' own cameras, this series takes us right into the heart of the action, capturing the unpredictable work of the RNLI in never-before-seen detail.

When a climber falls in a remote cave on the Gower Peninsula, the Mumbles crew are called in to search and rescue. In Portreath, lifeguards battle to save a teenager who is determined to surf despite red flag warnings. And on the Isle of Wight, the Yarmouth crew must locate a man in the water amongst over a thousand boats competing in the Round the Island Race.