I thought, I’m terribly out of control here.
You talk about danger and I would say I didn’t feel in danger but occasionally I would feel apprehensive. There was a rescue that was done in I think it was 1986, to a fishing vessel called La Morlaye which was under tow by another fishing vessel. The tow had snapped somewhere off the mouth of the Tyne and we were called out to pick the tow up to bring it into the Tyne. I was the second coxswain; the coxswain was John Hogg at the time. I can recall somewhere round about midnight we went out of the piers and we thought we had found the boat and they said no it’s not us, the real boat is further inshore and we found it off Whitley Bay beach, somewhere near the Panama Dip. I can recall we had trouble getting lines across, we fired a couple of rocket lines across to them, we passed a tow line. I think the tow line snapped twice. On one occasion I tried to throw the tow line and just as I threw the line, the sea went from under the boat and the stern dropped away and I ended up in mid-air and landing across the back of the boat on the railings, thinking that was a bit close, finally getting another tow line on and that snapped as well. By this time the boat was really in the surf and John Hogg decided enough was enough, let’s just get them off. He put the boat alongside, grabbed the three men and we were away.
We did a rescue to a yacht called the Signature which had come through the Tyne piers with some guests on board and in a very heavy following sea it had pitch poled, throwing three men into the water. Badly damaged, the steering was bent and it was going round in circles. We got called out. It was an afternoon, nice bright, sunny, but there had been a storm in the North Sea the night before so there was a very heavy swell coming in. We were called out and there was a very heavy ebb tide running against the sea causing really big seas in the harbour and we found the three men already had been washed out through the pier entrance and they were just north of the North pier. We picked the three of them up, two of them face down in the water and one of them was the right way up but swimming on his back. There was blood everywhere, he had obviously hurt himself quite badly. We picked all three up and the helicopter arrived shortly after. We attempted to get the helicopter winch man on board so that he could get these people off to hospital but in the seas outside it was just impossible so I decided we would do it in the harbour. So, at full speed we entered between the piers and the helicopter coming close behind us we got picked up by a following sea. We were surfing down the front of this wave and for the first time I think I can remember on the lifeboat I thought, I’m totally out of control here, the boat’s not doing what I want it to do. It was going more and more sideways and leaning further and further over and when it got round to maybe forty-five, fifty degrees, I just grabbed the throttles, pulled them back and the boat punched through the wave and bounced back up again. There afterwards, the helicopter landed the winch man on board. Two or three of my crew, afterwards, said to me, “Martin, you know when it leaned over?” and I said, “Yeh.” and they said, “Well, we were looking at each other saying, ‘I hope he’s going to do something because it’s going further and further and further………..’”
Interview with Martin Kenny for The Old Low Light Project 22 October 2014