For Portsmouth, the sea is a source of both business and pleasure. Fishing boats and ferries criss-cross our waterways, while families swim in the cool water and thrillseekers skim across the waves on jetskis.
The sea is vital to life in Portsmouth. But it can also become a deadly place to be thanks to a swift change in weather or a simple error of judgment by those using it.
RNLI helmsman Peter Slidel, 42, from Cockleshell Gardens, Eastney, is one of the many volunteers that put their lives on the line on a regular basis to protect the residents and tourists that frequent Portsmouth’s shoreline.
Based at the RNLI station on Ferry Road, Eastney, Peter has been involved with the sea for nearly all of his life.
He says: ‘I’ve always had an involvement with the sea. I was fostered at 14 years old by a fisherman from Emsworth. My foster father was a very good fisherman so we never had to be rescued.’
Sometimes though, no matter how experienced people are, they get into trouble. In 2012 Peter was involved in a daring rescue two miles outside Langstone that was made national news headlines.
A fishing trawler had engine trouble and was starting to sink with two men on board.
Peter says: ‘ It was one of those time-critical rescues. With my previous experience of fishing boats, I decided that I was going on board. The priority was to get those guys off.’
Peter dived over the handrail of the stricken vessel and helped to get the men to safety. But before he could return to the lifeboat, the trawler sank with him still on board.
‘Everybody was surprised by how quickly the trawler went down.
‘It didn’t appear frightening to me at at the time because I had the right equipment on to be safe.
‘But when you go home after something like that, you are grateful for the family and friends you have. You sometimes think “that was close”.’
Peter started working for the RNLI as a member of Portsmouth’s lifeboat crew in 2006 and worked his way up to the position of helmsman, the lead crew member on any rescue.
He says: ‘The training you receive is second to none. Everybody starts at the bottom and you work your way up. Being a captain is quite natural to me, but you have got to have a good team.
‘Teamwork is key and the crew at Portsmouth all gel really well. You need to learn each other’s abilities and the helmsman needs to know what everybody is capable of.’
When an emergency, or ‘shout’, occurs in the waters around Portsmouth, volunteer crew members are paged to attend the station as quickly and safely as possible.
The helmsman then chooses the crew that will attend the incident. Crews train to be ready for anything and aim to be dressed in their protective clothing within just 90 seconds of being chosen to go out on the boat.
Peter says: ‘We have between 100 and 120 launches a year. We are a very busy lifeboat station. In the UK we are normally within the top 10 busiest stations.
‘You never know what you are going to be dealing with. Out of 120 shouts a year probably 10 or so are life critical. You breathe a sigh of relief when you are told that somebody needs a tow in, but when you are told that someone is drowning or missing you step up a gear. It is a massive buzz to know that you can save someone’s life.’
The life of an RNLI helmsman is definitely exciting, but it does require sacrifice.
Peter says:‘You seem to go on auto-pilot when the pagers go off.
‘I have had to run out of my grandchildren’s birthday parties, meals with my wife and even Christmas Day. I will respond from 2pm to 6am in the morning. As a helmsman your commitment needs to be 100 per cent –- it is a lifestyle.’
Despite the danger and costs of his job, Peter still hasn’t lost his love of the sea.
‘I love the sea. I think I am always going to live by the coast. I could never see myslelf living inland. Every opportunity we get, me and my family are down walking along the front.’
Even though Peter’s passion for the sea hasn’t dimmed, he sometimes feels sick of it – literally.
He confesses; ‘I get sea sick still. I can go out on a perfectly calm day and if I have my head down, training with the GPS, I struggle.’
But in rough seas, it’s different.
‘I’m fine with rough seas. In fact, the rougher the better!’ he grins.