Silly season begins down in Dartmouth: The wild life with Monty Halls (and Reubs!)
21:30 GMT, 10 August 2012
The sun has appeared, and it's officially the silly season down here in Dartmouth. It seems that on the weekends, every single thing that can float (and, as it turns out, several things that can't) putter their way out to sea to bask in the glow of summer.
There is a kind of collective madness that descends on us when the wind drops and the sea stills its restless passage, and this results in lots of boats heading confidently for the horizon. One whiff of ozone and our maritime DNA comes gloriously alive.
Monty Halls at home in Dartmouth, Devon
Those who head out fall into two categories. The first is the safety conscious, methodical water user. For them, life-jackets abound, speed limits are observed, and all is calm, serene and genteel.
The second category comes from groups whose nautical exploits begin with the following conversation: 'My mate's got a boat he bought on ebay for 37, and we thought we'd stick it in at Dartmouth. Fancy coming along
'There'll be seven of us. Oh, and we're going to the pub first. Oh, and we can’t afford life jackets but Dave can swim so he can drag us ashore if anything goes wrong.'
The really weird thing about this second type is that although they'll overload a boat, power it with a sputtering outboard that was built in 1907, and have no buoyancy aids for themselves or their kids, they always seem to have a life jacket for the dog.
Monty's sidekick Reuben
This may be the 'Aha, the dog can swim as well, so if Dave drowns then it can tow us ashore' school of thought, or it's simply the fact that we as a nation are all a bit soppy about our pets.
Anyway, the profusion of such sea-borne muppetry has seen the lifeboat called out on several occasions in the last couple of weeks. I've been involved in a few of these launches, and let me tell you it is quite simply the most wondrous thing.
It's very important at this juncture that I point out my role is minimal. I get in the tractor at the shed where the lifeboat is stored, tow the boat across the park, reverse it in a wobbly line down the slipway, then drive back to the shed while the boys head off and do the real work (that's me in the photo on the tractor, by the way).
I did get a welly full of water the other day, an event I hoped might see me put up for some sort of gallantry award. But apparently not. Maybe it has to be both wellies.
But it's the run across the park from my house towards the lifeboat shed that is so glorious. I live only 200 yards away, and so am generally there fairly quickly. Because the 'shouts' (as they’re termed) that I've been involved in have been at midnight, 2am, and 3am respectively, I'm generally dressed fairly eccentrically.
It's not easy to grab your clothes in the wee hours, so invariably my trousers are on backwards and I'm wearing one of Tam's blouses, but get there I do. The park is the flat bit of land next to the river, and so I look up at the town as I run, and what I see is inspiring stuff. It's a sight that should make us all feel a little bit better about ourselves.
Monty Halls on his tractor
Above me, in the steepled shadows of the hillside, bleepers are sounding in the 30 different houses of the crew. Bedside lights are instantly flicked on, duvets thrown back, and boots hastily fitted.
This isn't a leisurely stroll to see what's going on, it's a headlong dash to the shed. The hint is in the name. It’s a 'life' boat. Out there in the darkness of an unforgiving ocean, a numb hand may be losing its grip on a line or a vessel may be slipping beneath the surface – so seconds lost can mean lives lost.
I see the rescue effort come alive as I run. I see headlights weaving through the streets, I see doors flung open and figures hurtling through shadowy lanes down the hill.
The focal point is the shed, a scramble fuelled not only by adrenaline but also the urge to save one more soul from the sea. The tragic history of every coastal town in Britain is told by those left behind, with many chapters written in the grip of loss and sorrow.
Each person saved redresses the balance, and so the men and women of the lifeboat crews run towards the danger. They are ready for what lies ahead, keen to balance the books by hauling one more survivor back from the edge.