RED HOUSE LUGGER
On Thursday 29th August 1996 a 32ft (10 metre) yacht – The Red House Lugger – put out a Mayday call having sustained damage to her wheelhouse in a severe storm force 11 NNE gale some 30 miles east of Aldeburgh. The Freddie Cooper launched off the beach at 8.15 am into a very heavy swell with Coxswain Ian Firman in command. Lowestoft lifeboat also launched at the same time as did the RAF SeaKing helicopter. The helicopter arrived first but was unable to let down a winchman due to the storm force and so directed the lifeboats to the scene. Also in scene was the North Sea ferry Norking providing some shelter to the yacht. Both lifeboats arrived at 10.18 and it was decided that Freddie Cooper would attempt to put a man aboard the Red House Lugger to secure a tow. As Ian Firman lined up Freddie Cooper he saw out of the corner of his eye the Lowestoft lifeboat heading down a wave much longer than the 47ft length of the boat straight at him. The lifeboat missed each other but the crest of the wave laid the Freddie Cooper over on her side to such an extent that the capsize sirens on board sounded, the cabin windows were completely submerged, as was one of the crew who was on deck when his automatic lifejacket inflated. Coxswain Catchpole on the Lowestoft even saw Freddie Coopers starboard propeller completely clear of the water.
With the 14ft high waves and 20 ft swell the idea of towing was abandoned and the Freddie Cooper lined up to take 3 of the crew off. The crew were mustered on the port side of the yacht and as the Freddie Cooper came alongside they were grabbed by crew members and pulled to safety. Next the Lowestoft boat next came alongside and deposited Bert Coleman – their second coxswain on board – who took charge and lined up the last three crew members on the side who were plucked off. With Bert Colemen on board the casualty it was possible to secure a tow and so Red House Lugger was taken in tow by the Lowestoft boat and since they were by now considerably south of the first sighting it was decided to tow to Harwich which was some 35 miles to the west of them. They arrived at about 7pm and having refuelled they set off back to Aldeburgh and Lowestoft arriving at 8pm and 11.30 pm respectively.
The rescue having taken some 12 hours and 15 hours. For their gallantry Ian Firman and John Catchpole were awarded an RNLI bronze Medal and Bert Colemen a Thanks on Vellum. Ian Firman gave his bronze medal to the Aldeburgh station and it is on show at the station. Aldeburgh crew members for that rescue were: second Coxswain Mick Testoni, Steven Saint, Leslie Warner, Peter Cook, Christopher Baker, and Kevin Clark. Steven Saint is now the Coxwain on the boat.
Some 3 and a half years later – on Sunday 20th May 2000 – the Dutch yacht Rose bank with a crew of four had steering difficulties 7 miles east of Aldeburgh. Freddie Cooper with Ian Firman again in charge was launched at 10.38 in a fierce WNW force 7 wind. The weather conditions were rapidly deteriorating and when the Freddie Cooper reached the last reported position Rose bank was nowhere to be found. Due to the worsening conditions the Harwich boat was also launched. Intermittent radio calls were received from the Rose bank and she was by now another 7 miles to the east so once again Coxswain Ian Firman set off after her. Again arriving on scene the Rose bank had made another 6 miles to the east. By now the wind had increased to severe gale force 11 and the waves some 6 metres high. Eventually some 22 miles from the coat Freddie Cooper came onto Rose bank.
Ian Firman decided to steam up wind of the casualty and fire a rocket line across to the Rose bank so they could secure a tow. The wind catching the rocket it landed high on the forestay and using a fender the crew lowered the line and just as the crew was securing a towing line the Rose bank broached and the tow had to be cut. A second attempt was made to fire a line to them but this time it was secured by the crew over the forward guardrail and not through it. Thus when strain was applied the guardrail would have been pulled off. Whilst trying to re-rig the tow the line was snatched from their grasp. The skipper of the Rose bank decided to abandon ship and the plan was for the Freddie Cooper to come alongside and grab crew members fro the stricken yacht and the Harwich boat, which had arrived by this time to steam astern and pick up any one who fell into the sea. Three attempts were made to get alongside and three crew were lifted off. On the fourth attempt another petrified crew member was grabbed and on the last occasion the skipper put his helm hard over and run to the side to be heaved unceremoniously aboard the Freddie Cooper. The Freddie Cooper and Harwich boats then set off for Harwich with the idea being to transfer the crew to the larger Harwich boat so they could catch the Harwich ferry back to Holland where they were originally heading to. However conditions were too bad and the crew too traumatised to make the transfer. The 4 crew were landed at Aldeburgh at 3.15pm and after some time recovering were taken by car to Harwich to catch the ferry home. The Rose bank was recovered three days; later by a fishing boat out of Ramsgate and towed to Ramsgate. Where boat and owner were reunited some while later. For his outstanding bravery and gallantry Coxswain/mechanic Ian Firman was awarded a Bronze Medal and the crew of the day – deputy second Coxswain Lee Firman (his son) assistant mechanic, Alan Warner, Jason Burns, Adrian Burns, (cousins), John Andrews and Chris Spooner were also awarded medal certificates. Once again Ian Firman donated his medal to the station.