The Crews

A glance at the old service returns will show the same family names recurring over the years: names like Barbeary, Comer, Irwin, Ley, Lovering, Rumson, Williams. Five Comers are recorded on one service return; five Williams on another. Many of the old crew-members are clearly remembered by people in the community. Sam Ley recalls, “They were hard men. Their life as fishermen was hard, and going out in the lifeboat, even in the worst of weather, was just part of that way of life."

At the end of 1991, the last lifeboat crewman for whom fishing had been a way of life, retired. Coxswain David Clemence had given over 35 years of distinguished service in three successive Ilfracombe lifeboats. Other members of the Clemence family have served, and still serve, as crew-members on the present lifeboats. David Clemence’s successor, Coxswain Mechanic Andrew Putt, who was elected to this position by the crew, was a full-time employee of the RNLI. All other members of the crew are volunteers, and now come from a variety of occupations that include accounting, teaching, lorry-driving, plastering, and plumbing.

The lifeboat normally carries a crew of seven. Every two weeks, the boat is launched for training exercises, and Divisional Inspectors regularly examine the condition of the lifeboat and the efficiency of the crew. The lifeboat and her crew are consequently ready for service at any time, in any weather. The tractor and carriage ensure that the lifeboat can be launched at any state of the tide, and recovered on return from service.

Seafarers are superstitious group of people by nature. Some have a total aversion to any references to small grey herbivores with fluffy white tails. Some become very anxious in the presence of a vicar: lifeboatmen have been known to disembark promptly when a vicar has arrived at the boathouse to conduct a ceremony at sea. On one such occasion, the launching tractor broke down, and the vicar looked most bemused when the Cox. politely enquired whether he had also been on the tractor that day!