Sheringham lifeboat senior helmsman retires

Sheringham lifeboat senior helmsman Tony Webster, who is retiring after more than 18 years. Picture: KAREN BETHELL

After more than 18 years as a volunteer lifeboat crew member, Sheringham senior helmsman Tony Webster is hanging up his dry suit and boots.

And although he admits he will miss the camaraderie that comes with being a lifeboatman, he says he is looking forward to not having to worry about being dragged from his bed – or from his dinner – at a moment's notice.

Born in Leicester, Mr Webster moved to Sheringham as a youngster and quickly developed a passion for the sea. By the age of 13, he was spending every weekend and most of the school holidays going out on crab boats with a pair of Cromer fishermen.

'I love the sea, it is hard to explain, but it gets into your blood,' he said.

After leaving school, Mr Webster took a job with a local building firm and it was while working on the revamp of Sheringham's lifeboat station that he decided to volunteer as a crew member.

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After approaching former coxswain Clive Rayment, who was then senior helmsman, he trained as a crew member in 1992 on Sheringham's last offshore boat.

When the current inshore boat was brought into service two years later, the crew had to complete further training.

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'I was probably the only person to have trained on both the offshore and inshore boats,' Mr Webster, 48, said. 'You had to learn the ropes shoreside before going to sea.'

In 2004, Mr Webster was made station mechanic, taking over as senior helmsman in 2008.

For the past 18 years, he has spent around 14 hours a week at the station, including every Sunday morning, and admits that being a crew member does have an impact on family life.

'I have had shouts in the middle of meals, at birthday parties and even on wedding anniversaries, which didn't go down too well with my wife,' Mr Webster said.

Funny moments have included being asked by the RSPCA to rescue a seal pup off Weybourne, but there have been difficult times too, and Mr Webster remembers spending 18 hours at sea searching for two capsized sailors, who were later discovered to have lost their lives.

'It can be very hard and there have been sad times on shouts, but the crew are always there for each other, even outside of the lifeboat.'

While he says he will miss the friendly atmosphere of the station, Mr Webster, who works as a pipe mechanic for a local company, is looking forward to being free on Sundays to go fishing and spend time with his wife and eight grandchildren.

'Susan has had a lot to put up with over the years, and it will be nice to be able to relax without having to worry about getting a shout,' he said.

More than 70 people attended a farewell dinner held in Mr Webster's honour, with guests including Cromer and Wells coxswains John Davis and Allan Frary and former Sheringham senior helmsman Martyn Jackson, who praised Mr Webster's dedication and professionalism. Guest of honour was RNLI head of fleet operations Capt Hugh Fogarty.

Mr Webster thanked fellow crew members for their support over the years and paid tribute to his successor, Sheringham plumber David Hagon.

'Sheringham station is unique in its closeness, the sense of community and the support it receives from the public, and although it is a very hard thing to leave, I couldn't wish for a better man to take over as senior helmsman,' he said.

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