FOR the first time in almost 50 years, Lyme Regis will not be hosting Lifeboat Week – one of the most popular events of summer.
The annual week of thrills and spills on the seafront was set to get underway today (Saturday) but, due to the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing guidelines, organisers from Lyme Regis & Charmouth Lifeboat Supporters Group were forced to pull this year’s event.
Instead of LymeOnline’s usual extensive photo coverage of all the fun and games, we’ve been looking back at Lifeboat Weeks gone by – including the very first in 1972, which turned out to be a little more dramatic than organisers had bargained for.
Lyme Regis had hosted a Lifeboat Day since 1965 but organisers soon realised it had potential for much bigger things.
The town’s three-times world champion town crier and lifeboat crew member of 15 years, Richard Fox, played an instrumental role in organising the first Lifeboat Week, bringing some of the most spectacular attractions to town, including helicopter display teams.
On July 19 1972 crowds packed the beach to watch a lifeboat demonstration with the Royal Navy helicopter from HMS Osprey at Portland.
The exercise went well and to mark the end of the demonstration, the helicopter flew eastwards across the harbour towards the lifeboat, where it was due to release a streamer as a farewell signal.
But it soon became apparent all was not well, as a slight change of note was heard in one of the helicopter’s engines.
Lifeboat helmsman Peter Gill immediately slammed down the throttle and seconds later the helicopter pancaked into the sea, throwing up great clouds of spray as the rotor arms thrashed in the water.
The lifeboat crew rescued two airmen from the water and another two from the cabin, leaving the captain on board still at the controls. None of the crew were injured.
The helicopter, now sinking, was towed some 200m to the beach by the lifeboat, and the crew were later praised by the Royal Navy and RNLI for their prompt action.
Despite the rocky start, lifeboat and helicopter displays have become a staple of Lifeboat Week and thankfully none have since ended in such dramatic fashion.
Other events during that first Lifeboat Week included a film show, canoeing and waterskiing demonstrations, a souvenir stall at the lifeboat station, along with hot dogs, pease pudding and faggots.
In more recent years, favourite events have included displays by the Red Arrows, Red Devils and RAF Falcons, the infamous conger cuddling which was cancelled in 2006, open air discos, the bathtub race, tug o’ war across the harbour mouth, yard of ale, fun run, duck race and children’s games.
Lifeboat Week has gone from strength to strength since those early days, attracting thousands of visitors every year and raising a record £40,000 for the RNLI in 2019.
The event will be hugely missed this year, not just by the lifeboat crew and supporters, but by residents and visitors across the town.