slipway, while launching racks were attached to either side of the carriage, and then the winch-brake was eased so the boat could descend to the sand. While the winch rope was being disconnected, the crew — dressed in heavy leather sea boots, with cork lifejackets laced over their oilskins — clambered into the boat to check their oars. When all were ready, the strongest launchers manned the racks and pushed, while women and boys took hold of two ropes at the front of the carriage to pull. To encouragement shouted by the crew, the launchers hauled and pushed.
Gathering momentum, the caterpillar wheels trundled towards the sea. At the waterline, the tow ropes were dropped, everyone running to the back to drive the carriage into the sea until it was almost awash. While the steersman untied the rudder, two ropes were hooked to the stern, and passed to the eager hands of those who were now waist deep in freezing surf. These ropes, ‘connecleys’, were led backwards, so that the lifeboat was almost catapulted into the breakers. The haulers ran up the beach. The lifeboat surged into the sea, bows rising as oars plunged in unison.
When the cheering had died down, then came the waiting. Dark-eyed women, wrapped in shawls, with children tugging at their skirts, watched the sea, worrying over their husbands and sons. Every person in Runswick had a relative on the boat, a breadwinner whose loss would be hard-felt. It was an experience they faced every day of their lives, but it was never as harrowing as on those nights when their men folk challenged the worst moods of the sea to render help to mariners less fortunate than themselves.
A measure of the women’s’ characters can be gauged from an incident which occurred on 12th March 1901. At dawn the men set off to fish in their cobles. Hours later, the wind changed its direction and became a shrieking gale. The villagers drifted to vantage points, where they tried to spy the distant cobles. It was obvious they needed to launch the lifeboat, but all the crew was already out at the fishing grounds, along with nearly all the manpower needed to launch her. The women decided that if the
shore-bound old men could man the lifeboat,
then they, the women, could launch her.
Their achievement illustrates the limits to
which the human body can be
stretched when danger demands it.
The Cape of Good Hope,
manhandled by the womenfolk,
oars powered by aged muscles, was
able to stand by until all the cobles
safely reached shore. A postscript
to the unprecedented event was
that all the women were invited
to a reception dinner in
Manchester where Ethel Patton
accepted a plaque and a photograph
on their behalf.
Since that day, in 1901, Runswick’s successive lifeboats have taken part in several rescues. One of the more notable was on 19th November 1924, when the Princess Clementine went aground at Old Nab, between Runswick and Staithes. The crew members were taken off, but the captain refused, hoping his vessel could be towed off when the weather eased.
He stayed alone on board, with the sea battering the ship into a wreck beneath his feet. After eight days, he signalled for help. For bringing the exhausted captain ashore, Coxswain Andrew Tose and Second Coxswain Thomas Patton were each awarded the R.N.L.I bronze medal.
The 1939-45 war changed life irreparably for the villagers. Many of the sons who had seen active service returned home married. The obvious housing shortage, plus the depletion of inshore fishing stocks, forced them to seek work away from the bay. With young blood not replacing old in the cobles, the long standing fishing families began to disappear. And by then, the tourists had discovered the idyllic bay, and as cottages became vacant they were swiftly bought. The new owners spent weekends renovating the properties, and