Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

It's a Very Strong Bondwe Have -When You Go to Sea, You Relyon Each Other

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

It's a Very Strong Bondwe Have -When You Go to Sea, You Relyon Each Other

Article excerpt

The country's longest-serving lifeboatman has been part of the Teesmouth team for more than 40 years, but is due to stand down this year. Here John Race tells DAVE ROBSON about his memories... and those inevitable darker days

IT didn't take long for John Race to realise how cruel the sea can be.

It was February 6, 1970, and Teesmouth Lifeboat was on its way to a major disaster.

The 520-ton coaster Lairdsfield, heaving with steel columns and plates, had capsized off the Tees.

And, having joined the lifeboat's crew just a year before, 19-year-old John was about to get a baptism of fire.

He recalls: "It was about 6.30pm and the Lairdsfield had just left the river.

"We were told a ship had capsized and when we got there, all that was showing was the bow - the remainder was resting on the sea bed.

"We searched through the night and next day for survivors, but there weren't any. It was an early lesson that you can work with the sea and respect it, but you know the damage it can do."

Twelve seamen lost their lives in the tragedy.

For John, of Redcar, joining Teesmouth was a family affair, following in the footsteps of dad Roland.

He and brother Peter began as shore helpers in November 1965 - John was just 14.

John recalls: "The boat had docked at Middlesbrough overnight, so we were left on board to adjust ropes on the rise and fall of the tide. It wouldn't happen now!"

More than 40 years on, both John and Peter have served as Teesmouth coxswain - the person in overall charge of Tyne Class lifeboat RNLB Phil Mead whenever it sets out to sea.

The RNLI confirms that, apart from one man in Ireland, current coxswain John is the longest-serving crewman the service has on record.

But he is quick to put into perspective the dangers faced by the country's brave lifeboatmen and women.

He said: "The longer you go on, you've got more confidence in yourself, your colleagues and the equipment you're using. As long as you don't push things too much, you know you'll be quite safe."

Yet, inevitably, there have been sombre moments which made him stop and reflect. …

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