Ten years of sea rescues

IT is ten years since Felixstowe's sea rescue service first took to the waves - a decade in which it has helped more than 800 people in more than 500 incidents.

IT is ten years since Felixstowe's sea rescue service first took to the waves - a decade in which it has helped more than 800 people in more than 500 incidents.

Crew of the vessel Volunteer are today celebrating reaching the milestone despite many doubting they would last more than a season.

But the determined members of the Felixstowe Volunteer Coast Patrol Rescue Service have kept going, despite the tough annual battle to raise funds for their boat, fuel, equipment and training.

Chairman master mariner John Cresswell said: “I don't think we have done badly for a private volunteer organisation who some said would not last the course.

“My only real disappointment is that the service has not got a base of its own and after ten years of proven good service, we have failed to attract a core sponsor who could secure our uncertain future.

“Money aside, the most important asset we have is our dedicated small group of volunteers without whom the service would certainly fail.

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“We have always been fortunate to have quality people who give their time freely and pay their own expenses.”

Funding has been a big bugbear for the team. Felixstowe Town Council gives support but funding from other authorities has been patchy and fundraising, business sponsorship and donations keep it running.

As a key part of the resort's network of seafront rescue services, the crew helps and rescues sailboarders and jet-skiers in trouble, people swept away on inflatables, yachts aground on sandbanks or with engine problems or fouled rudders, swimmers stranded, incidents on the beach.

The service started after the withdrawal of Coastguard rescue boats and the reorganisation of that service.

Mr Cresswell said: “We felt there was a serious gap in the resort's marine safety cover.

“We had a vision of a patrol service - no money, no boat or equipment, and above all no volunteers, just a vision.”

A donation from the Rotary Club of Felixstowe Landguard kicked off the project and a few months later it launched.

“The first successful season spurred us on, yet our critics were still saying the service would not last,” said Mr Cresswell.

More equipment and two extra boats were added to the second season and eventually it was decided to have Volunteer built to the service's specification.

n What do you think of the volunteer service's work? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

FROM its first day at sea, the Felixstowe Volunteer Coast Patrol Rescue Service has found no shortage of work.

Launching back in August 1997 its first job was to warn people about waves from the high-speed superferry Discovery, before being was tasked by the Coastguard to deal with jet-skiers too close to shore and to help a ketch aground on the Deben Bar.

They also gave first aid to a toddler, dealt with a lost child, and gave a display for the carnival.

By the end of the first season, the team had given 21 days' safety cover, handled 30 incidents involving 24 people, and covered 1,134 miles on patrol.

In the ten years since it has attended 512 incidents, helping 833 people in all kinds of situations.

Chairman John Cresswell recalled some of the major incidents at which they had helped, including when 200 people got swamped at The Dip by the superferry's huge wash waves, with people having to be rescued and beaches evacuated.

He said: “Luckily no lives were lost, only people's belongings.

“The beaches had to be closed while the HSS arrived or departed, which necessitated all our boats being on patrol.”

Other major incidents included youngsters stuck in mud on the Orwell, fire on Felixstowe pier, and many vessels aground. Some incidents could be potentially serious but have a humorous side, too.

IT is essential that a seaside resort like Felixstowe has a rescue service operating from its beaches - able to respond immediately to anyone in danger in the sea.

Over the past decade the volunteers who man the rescue and patrol boat have done a fantastic job, using their skills to help people virtually every summer weekend, and they should be applauded for their commitment and determination to keep visitors and residents safe.

It hasn't been a smooth ride and the battle for funds is ongoing every year.

But John Cresswell and his team have overcome the doubters to reach ten years - and may they be part of the resort's rescue cover for many years to come.

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