On a fine breezy Saturday in August, eight SKEALS members and six members of the public spent a very pleasant and informative couple of hours at Spurn Point with the Superintendent Coxwain of the Humber Lifeboat, Dave Steenvoorden.
Dave Steenvoorden’s talk was extremely interesting and informative but was more especially memorable for his pride in the Royal National Lifeboat Institute which came over in every aspect of his talk. This was nowhere more obvious than when the visitors were taken to an outside wall of the Lifeboat Station where numerous engraved tablets listed the achievements of the Humber Lifeboat from March 1977 to the present day. It was here that Coxwain Steenvoorden pointed out the few simple words that told of the rescue of four seamen from the Panamanian freighter Revi on the 14th February 1979.
A little while later, when inside the crew room of the station we were shown a dramatic painting which depicted the heroic rescue of the Captain of the sinking ship as it was about to disappear beneath mountainous 40ft waves. For this brave rescue, Dave’s predecessor, Superintendent Coxwain Brian Bevan was awarded the RNLI’s Gold Medal. A facsimile of the medal is proudly displayed on the wall of the crew room along with two other gold medals awarded to another Coxwain, Robert Cross. The extent of the bravery shown by those who have been awarded the medal was brought home when we were told that it is regarded as being the equivalent to the Victoria Cross.
Earlier in the afternoon, we were taken to a vantage point overlooking both the treacherous River Humber and the North Sea. The incoming tide was seen to be whipped into a frenzy of white water over the infamous Binks, a stretch of shallow water caused by the meeting of the River Humber and the sea. Already this year this angry water has caused three yachts to have to call for the help of the Humber Lifeboat.
From our vantage point we were able to see an oil tanker moored at the river mouth and attached to a buoy. A tug could also be seen close to the tanker. The tanker was discharging its cargo of oil through a pipeline which passed from the buoy to oil tanks which were visible at Tetney on the south shore of the River Humber. From there the oil is transferred by another pipeline to the refining facilities at Immingham, further up the river.
As high tide approached a number of large cargo vessels proceeded to move from their moorings at the Humber mouth to the ports further up river. The areas where large and small vessels were moored while waiting for berths to become available were pointed out. A third area, much nearer to the Lincolnshire coast was indicated. This is where ships with dangerous cargos are moored, well out of harms way. The buoys marking the various navigable channels and the work of the Associated British Ports pilots explained. With over one hundred shipping movements every day the River Humber is a very dangerous place and the VTS (Vessel Traffic Services run by Associated British Ports) tower, manned by a permanent staff who continually monitor the ships approaching and passing up and down the Humber, is clearly vital if serious accidents are to be avoided.
Throughout the visit the mischievous sense of humour of Dave Steenvoorden was never far from the surface. When asked if he or members of his crew ever suffered from seasickness Dave related a tale of when a new crew member, out in rough weather for the first time, was ill. We were told that another member of the crew plied the seasick sailor with Mars bars and cocoa. Inevitably, a visitor could not resist asking why this was done to the unfortunate victim. With a grin Dave answered that they tasted nice both ways, down and up. A real case of sick humour if ever I heard it.
What was a memorable experience was very nearly made unforgettable as we missed a genuine call-out of the lifeboat by just a couple of hours. Earlier in the day a small vessel had sailed too close to Bull Sand Fort which stands in the river mouth some two miles from Spurn Point. With its twin, Haile Sand Fort on the Lincolnshire side of the estuary, the two relics of the first world war once provided a defence for the river. The vessel had hit submerged rocks and lost its propeller. The Humber Lifeboat had been called out and the stricken boat towed into Grimsby.
However, enough is as good as a feast and after nearly two hours in his company we left Dave, his wife Karen, and the five other families, to what seems like a very lonely but rewarding life as crew of Britain’s only full time lifeboat station on one of Yorkshire’s remotest outposts.
SKEALS would like to thank the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Andrew Gibson, their Outer Humber Officer for supporting this event.
Note. Although the earliest date shown for the rescues carried out by the Humber Lifeboat at the Spurn Station is March 1977, earlier records can be seen at the museum in the Lighthouse at Withernsea.