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Dungeness lifeboat crew member Garry Clark recognised for saving lives

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Dover RNLI come and
assist Garry Clark and the rest of his crew

A lifeboat crew member has been
awarded one of the highest gallantry medals for his extraordinary
courage after saving seven lives in force 11 gales.

Dungeness RNLI volunteer lifeboat crew
member Garry Clark is to be awarded a Silver Medal for Gallantry –
one of the RNLI’s highest honours.

The tale behind the rescue in the
early hours of January 3 this year is one of 'exemplary bravery and

His fellow crew members are also
being recognised for their roles in the rescue of the training
yacht Liquid Vortex.

It all began at 5.40am in force 9
severe gales, in rough seas and with poor visibility, when the
Dungeness RNLI all-weather lifeboat launched to the Liquid

Dungeness lifeboat
Dungeness lifeboat

The vessel was struggling in extreme weather conditions
three miles east of Dungeness Point, with five of its seven crew
suffering from seasickness.

Once at sea, the conditions worsened
to storm force 10 winds, with waves of around 7–9 metres high.

But as the lifeboat crew assessed the
situation, an enormous wave struck both vessels from behind,
spinning the yacht through 180 degrees.

The skipper immediately transmitted a
Mayday call, reporting the yacht’s helmsman had been smashed
against the helm, suffering injuries and damaging the steering.

This left the skipper as the only
person aboard the yacht in a fit state to work with the lifeboat
crew during the rescue.

The inflatable life raft, which had
been tethered to the back of the yacht, had also been swept

The first attempts to transfer two
lifeboat crew onto the stricken yacht were unsuccessful due to the
horrendous weather conditions, so instead the crew tried to set up
a tow.

Dover Lifeboat
Dover Lifeboat

But after several attempts to position the lifeboat
close enough to throw a line across, this then snapped.

In increasingly dangerous conditions,
Garry managed to leap from the bow of the lifeboat onto the

By this time, the weather had
deteriorated further, with winds gusting to force 11, so back-up
was requested from the Dover RNLI all-weather lifeboat.

As the yacht was being tossed around
in violent seas, Garry faced a boat full of casualties.

He saw two men in the cockpit with the
skipper. In the cabins, he found a man in pain and bleeding, and
three women suffering severe seasickness.

By now, as Garry worked with the
skipper to establish a tow line, it was only possible to move
around the yacht by crawling on all fours.

In another dramatic twist, the new tow
line now snagged under the yacht, meaning Garry had no choice
but to lean over, putting himself in even more danger, and cut the
tow line.

The lifeboat crew managed to
re-establish a shorter tow and ploughed on through the rolling
seas. At one point, a huge wave crashed over the lifeboat’s deck,
nearly sweeping one of the crew overboard.

He was quickly saved by a fellow crew
member grabbing a strap on his lifejacket.

By 9am, Dungeness lifeboat crew had
been battling the appalling conditions for three-and-a-half

With all other hope fading, Garry then
worked with the skipper to pull and bend the wheel to a point where
it could be used.

The yacht was twisting heavily in the
seas but the skipper was able to steer the yacht behind Dover
lifeboat, freeing Garry to go back and check on the yacht’s

The beach at Dungeness Point
The beach at Dungeness Point

The rescue happened just
off Dungeness Point

The casualty with an injured jaw and
chest was in significant pain so Garry requested pain relief from
Dungeness lifeboat, and helped administer it.

At 9.40am, the rescue helicopter
arrived and the four casualties in the cabin were winched off the
yacht by 10.25am.

Eventually, in a more sheltered area
of the coast, Dover lifeboat managed to secure a tow line and began
heading for Ramsgate harbour.

Garry remained on board the yacht and,
with the wind now gusting to a violent storm force 11, helped to
steer it behind Dover lifeboat to the safety of Ramsgate. They all
finally berthed at 12.20pm after an exhausting six-and-a-half hours
at sea in the most appalling conditions.

Andrew Ashton, RNLI divisional
inspector of lifeboats, said: "This was a long and gruelling
service in increasingly perilous conditions.

"Crew member Garry Clark demonstrated
the utmost courage and determination, boarding the yacht and
managing multiple tasks, to ensure a safe and successful outcome,
while in turbulent seas. Garry’s bravery and actions epitomise the
traditional values of the RNLI.

"Deputy Second Coxswain Mark
Richardson and Mechanic/Deputy Second Coxswain Trevor Bunney showed
highly commendable competence, professionalism, leadership and
boat-handling skills.

"In addition, the rest of the
Dungeness and Dover crew are also to be commended for playing a
crucial role in the rescue, enduring horrendous sea conditions to
ensure seven lives were saved that day."

The RNLI Medals for Gallantry are
presented to recipients at the charity’s Annual Presentation of
Awards at the Barbican in London in May of each year.

The awards in


The RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry is
to be awarded to:

  • Crew Member Garry Clark

RNLI Thanks of the Institution
inscribed on Vellum to be awarded to:

  • Deputy Second Coxswain Mark Richardson
  • Mechanic / Deputy Second Coxswain Trevor Bunney

RNLI Silver Medal Service Badges and
Certificates and a Letter of Appreciation to be awarded to:

  • Deputy Second Coxswain Roger Gillett
  • Crew Member Simon Collins
  • Crew Member Terence Ashford
  • Crew Member Jeff Henderson

A collective Letter of Appreciation

  • Coxswain Mark Finnis
  • Deputy Second Coxswain James Clapham
  • Mechanic Lee Hand
  • Crew Member Michael Vaughan
  • Crew Member Paul Abbitt
  • Crew Member Wayne Sherwood
  • Crew Member Ian Miller
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