Yachting headlines often focus on the glory: the fastest superyachts, the winning race teams, sailors who circumnavigate the globe single-handedly.
All are superb and newsworthy achievements.
But often forgotten are those who strive to keep the seas safe for the rest of us, many of whom are unpaid volunteers.
The Lifeboat: Courage on our Coasts by Nigel Millard and Huw Lewis-Jones seeks to remedy this injustice, saluting these unsung heroes with a full colour coffee table book of outstanding photography.
Officially endorsed by the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution), the book opens with a foreword by HRH Prince William recounting his own experiences working alongside the Coastguard as a search and rescue pilot at Anglesey off North Wales. According to Prince William, ‘[I]t is hard to believe they are volunteers…It is a heart warming thought that such generosity and courage is shown every day on and off our shores. Long may it continue.’
The Lifeboat takes a look at several rescue teams around the British coast, celebrating the women and men who daily risk their lives to protect and rescue others.
As Conway Publishers point out, this is a vital service. ‘In 2011 alone some 7,976 people were saved by lifeboat crews and a further 17,670 were assisted by the service’s new lifeguard units, with lifeboats launching on average almost 20 times a day.’
When everyone else is heading away from stormy weather and incoming danger, the RNLI are the ones heading directly into it.
The key to The Lifeboat’s success is Millard’s breath-taking photography, as well as the experience of editor Huw-Lewis Jones, himself an author of several books on adventure and exploration in extreme conditions.
As a volunteer who for years has worked alongside the crews, Millard perfectly captures the danger, excitement and weather extremes.
Like Millard and Jones' earlier collaboration Ocean Portraits, the stunning, up-close portraits of storm-weathered faces are once again present, but so are younger faces; highlighting the diversity of young, old, male and female who all play their part.
Millard’s unprecedented access provides an insight into the daily ventures of lifeboat crews, both ashore and offshore: from training exercises on the beach through to battling the waves in force eight gales.
In an interview you can listen to here, Millard describes the challenge of taking photographs in bad weather conditions, explaining that a five-minute shoot can take up to a month and a half to set up.
Despite the gravity of the work and the inherent risk, it is not all solemn portraits and forbidding seas. We also see the crews laughing, enjoying both their work and the clear camaraderie between them, in an environment where trust and mutual respect is paramount.
Another interesting slant is the inclusion of beach-based lifeguards on the north coast of Cornwall, reminding that the work of the RNLI comes in many forms –including their excellent work educating the public about the perils of the sea.
Notably, The Lifeboat focuses not only on the crews themselves, but also on the coastal communities in which they serve and the families they support- many of whom boast an impressive maritime heritage and an association with lifeboats stretching back generations.
Pictures of children dressed in their parents' oversized oil-skins remind us of the families waiting for them to return and the thriving community spirit that is central throughout the book- and throughout this wonderful organisation that has been saving lives for over 200 years.
The illustrations are complimented by discussion of the types of craft used, how they have developed and the increasing role that technology plays today in the RLNI’s rescue operations.
This book, which is also available in a signed, limited edition version with handmade fabric cover from authentic RNLI weatherproof clothing, comes highly recommended.
The Lifeboat is a beautifully-realised and captivatingly-illustrated snapshot into a thriving and adrenaline-fuelled world that continues each day across our coasts, yet is so often overlooked.
Long may it continue indeed.
The Lifeboat:Courage on our Coasts is available now from Conway Publishing. Visit their site for more details: www.conwaypublishing.com.
*Images and interview courtesy of Conway Publishing
Felix is an editor of books and a freelance writer with articles published across a range of media. Growing up on the south coast of England, his formative years were spent living on a converted Dutch barge, while most of his teenage summer months were spent scrubbing decks. Over the years he has lost at least four mobile phones to the Hamble River and had at least one encounter with Solent Coastguard.