Hayling RNLI veteran retires

Hayling Island RNLI Senior Helm Paul Lewis ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (0000-3405)
Hayling Island RNLI Senior Helm Paul Lewis ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (0000-3405)
Chancellor Phillip Hammond

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A man responsible for many dramatic sea rescues is retiring after nearly 20 years in the job.

Paul Lewis was the senior helm at Hayling Island RNLI Lifeboat Station but must step down now he has reached 45.

He joined aged 26 having grown up on the island sailing and windsurfing.

The father-of-two said: ‘I had always fancied being on the lifeboat crew but it wasn’t until we had a lodger who was a crew member that I took the plunge.’

He added: ‘I’ve been very proud to be part of the team.

‘The crews are a really nice group of people who do a worthwhile job in saving lives. Working with them has given me a strong sense of my own identity and a sense of purpose in life.’

He quickly became a team leader and two rescues particularly stand out to him as being special.

The first was when two little girls walked out into Emsworth Harbour.

They suddenly became stuck as the tide started coming in and Paul managed to get out 200 yards further than the lifeboat could and found the girls – one was up to her waist and the other up to her neck in mud.

Using his bare hands he dug them out with the tide just yards away.

Alan Bartlett, Paul’s colleague at the station, said: ‘Those two lucky young ladies probably owe him their lives.’

The second rescue was even more dramatic.

Seven riders and their horses came down from London to race one another on the East Winner Sandbank at the mouth of Langstone Harbour.

Some stayed too long and suddenly became stranded.

Paul swam with one of the horses back to shore and had to jump from the lifeboat on to the back of another to swim with it back to shore too.

The final horse became frightened by the lights from the shore and tried to run away, so the crew got the beach lights put out and took the lifeboat to the seaward end of the bank so they could herd the horse towards the shore.

The reins were passed to the crew on the lifeboat to keep the horse’s head above water and Paul inflated his life jacket and put the horse’s head on his chest, wrapped his legs around its neck, and hung on as the horse was towed to safety.

Jonathan Bradbury, lifeboat operations manager, said: ‘Paul is an absolutely superb seaman and helm – I have had complete confidence in sending him to sea in all weathers.

‘He makes what he does so well look easy. We’ll miss him at the station but are grateful for his excellent service to the RNLI over many years.’