NICK CELEBRATES 40 YEARS ON NEWHAVEN LIFEBOAT



October 12th, 2023.



Nick Gentry has been presented the RNLI 40 years long service award for his commitment to the charity as volunteer crew for Newhaven Lifeboat. Nick achieved this outstanding milestone in February of this year.


During Nick’s 40 years of service, he has launched on more than 960 shouts. He has racked up over 4220 hours at sea in the roles of Crew, Navigator, Mechanic, Trainer and Assessor.

From his home on Hillcrest Road at the age of 22, Nick could see the boat house from his window. In those days, the whole town knew when the lifeboat was going out.

Nick explains: ‘It was a big deal back then. Hearing the Maroons being fired, knowing the lifeboat was launching.’

Getting out on the water was familiar to the young Nick. At the age of nine, his dad bought a 16ft open fishing boat and as a teenager, they had a Mitchell 23. Nick soon had his eyes on bigger things.

Nick explains that it is a privilege to be able to crew on the lifeboat: ‘I’ve always felt that while I’m in a position that allows me to volunteer and with the incredible support of my wife Jo, volunteering on the lifeboat is absolutely what I should be doing.’

When Nick started out on his volunteering journey with the RNLI, the process towards joining the crew began in the launch team.

‘It was an apprenticeship really. Newhaven had a 44ft Waveney class lifeboat. I was at the boat house, helping out, whenever I could be. I was eager to get on board.’

Newhaven also kept an emergency relief boat in the boathouse at that time, this was the 46ft 9in Watson-class lifeboat.

‘My first Shout opportunity came on the 2nd of May 1982.’

The 44ft Waveney class lifeboat, under Coxswain Len Patten and senior crew, had already been launched on service, tasked to a Mayday from a vessel taking part in the Royal Escape Race. As the incident unfolded Len requested launch of Newhaven’s relief boat, being the quickest option for required assistance on scene.

The 46ft 9in Watson-class needed six crew to launch plus space for two trainees. Acting Coxswain Jack Shinn was counting on the crew. Regular crew were still making their way down to the boat house.

‘Right place, right time. I pushed myself to the front and was the last one on.’

During his 40 years of volunteering, Nick has served under six different Coxswains and two Second Coxswains. There have been three classes of station lifeboats in this time, although Nick has crewed many more in the RNLI fleet.

When Nick retired from his career in chartered accountancy in 2015, he took on fleet passage work with the RNLI. Journeying from Troon on the west coast of Scotland, to the Orkney’s and Shetland Islands, travelling through the Caledonian Canal and into Loch Ness.

Nick also spent four months, over a period of eighteen months, helping to train and set up a brand new crew in Saint Helier in Jersey.

Roger Cohen MBE, Lifeboat Operations Manager, says: ‘Whilst crewing, Nick has also held the position of Training-coordinator in Newhaven for over two decades and five years ago became an Assessor and Trainer. Nick plays a critical role in bringing new recruits onto the lifeboat, working them through their competencies and supporting them as substantive crew.’

Nick says: ‘I made a lifetime commitment. I’ll be staying on ‘til I get kicked off!’

If Nick is ever unavailable, it’s usually because he’s walking Max, his cocker spaniel. Sadly, Nick has launched to more dogs, mostly going over the cliff edge, than he can begin to tell and only a handful survived.

‘It breaks my heart.’

The location of Newhaven dictates a huge variety of taskings. Nick notices how the nature of shouts has evolved over his four decades of service.

‘There are so many more people on the water for pleasure these days, we launch to as many calls for help in fine weather as we do in rough.’

Nick remembers the worst weather he has ever launched into, a tasking to the Newhaven РDieppe ferry Chartres, with 80 passengers and 50 crew on board, during a storm, which escalated to hurricane force in January 1990. Those conditions were very similar to the October 1987 storm, in which the lifeboat launched to the French fishing vessel La Francoise, rescuing the vessel and her crew of five.

Phill Corsi, Area Lifesaving Manager, says: ‘Nick has made and continues to make, an incredible contribution to Newhaven Lifeboat’s mission to save lives at sea. He is as dedicated on service as he is in training. Nick is an inspiration to us all and we congratulate him on receiving this important recognition.’

Nick remembers one of his proudest moments on the crew. Soon after a boy was swept out and lost at sea in October 2013. Queen Elizabeth II visited Newhaven. She asked to meet Newhaven’s then Coxswain Paul Legendre.

Nick says: ‘Queen Elizabeth II spoke to Paul inside Bickerstaff’s. Second Coxswain Lee Blacknell meanwhile, took the lifeboat and the crew who had been on scene that tragic day up river. As they approached, all the public turned to the lifeboat and gave a round of applause. It was a moving moment of public acknowledgement.’


Image credit: RNLI/Newhaven
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