Dave Kennett – on saving lives and life in the fast lane

A real myIsleofWight Character, you could write a book about Dave Kennett’s adventures on the open seas as coxwain of the RNLI Lifeboat in Yarmouth. With a bronze and then silver medal for his valiant rescues, topped by an MBE just after his retirement from the Lifeboat in 1995, Dave was a Man of the Year in 1989 and also found himself the subject of This is Your Life in 1995.

But it was speed that first inspired the young Dave, who once drove a powerboat through the Needles rocks at 80mph for a Canada Dry advert.

“I did the Round Great Britain Powerboat Race in 1969 with Peter Thorneycroft, chairman of the Bembridge Lifeboat. I was the diver on board of our team and we did have a terrible time coming down the North Sea – it was a force 8.

“A big cod end (net) from a fishing boat wrapped around the propellers and it was my job to go down and cut the netting off. Quite a job – I was under the water for about 1 ½ hours in very rough conditions and a 10ft swell.

“We were 16th out of I don’t know how many….at this time I had just started to be on the lifeboat and was 2nd coxwain of the Yarmouth lifeboat.

Pacific Glory and becoming 1st Coxwain

“I took over the boat in 1971 (as first coxwain) - it was just after the Pacific Glory (wrecked oil tanker off of the south of the Island). We were out there all night transferring firemen and standing by. It was there for a couple of days and at 2 o clock in the morning they decided to tow her to a sandbank off of Sandown. There was fire all over the sea.

“It was at that time when Howard Hayles, who was first coxwain, said to me “I’m retiring from the lifeboat, will you take over?”

“It’s been really enjoyable – I’ve loved it. There’s been something different all the time.

Bronze Medal

“We left Yarmouth a midday and it was blowing nearly a hurricane (in 1989). The Al Kwather 1 was off Swanage with engine failure and both anchors down. We asked if they wanted to be taken off in the daylight but the captain decided to wait and see if the weather would abate. Swanage Lifeboat, who were there, decided to go on back in and left us out there. We then realised that we could be on the scene for a long time  so we went in  and got the crew fed and watered – the captain still wasn’t saying whether he wanted to be taken off or not.

"I decided at 9pm that I ought to rest my crew. A hotel was arranged by the Swanage crew and just as we got our heads down we heard noises from one of the crew shouting that we had to launch and get the crew! By then the wind had dropped to Force 10 and we manage to get an engineer and one crew off of the stern of the ship and I decided that the conditions were too bad to transfer people so we asked the air sea rescue helicopter to take the rest off. We were away from base for 18 hours. Everyone was rescued and a film was made called A Job Well Done."

Silver Medal

“The silver medal was for saving five London policemen who were in trouble 11 miles off of the Needles at 11pm in a Force 11 storm! We made two attempts to get them off and got them all off except one fell down the side and Bob Cook, one of the crew, got hold of him before he fell into the water.

“They were consequently on This is Your Life with me in 1995 – they were all high ranking policemen.

This is Your Life

 “The RNLI asked me if I would make a film on local hazards around the coast. The 2nd Coxwain was driving and I was on the foredeck talking into camera and the Air Sea Rescue helicopter came alongside and dropped Michael Aspel onto the deck with the red book!

“There was a car waiting for me and they whisked me to London. I was in working gear so Zoe my wife had brought up my clothes with three or four shirts because they had to match my eyes! We were led out onto the set and different people had their say and they afterwards we had a lovely party.

“After that we had a very interesting one, The Life of A Thousand Lives when we were all invited: all the people who had been on This is Your Life. It was at BBC Television Centre and we were put up at the Hilton. I went and said hello to Barbara Windsor and Audrey Roberts and Old Jack from Coronation Street. All the boxers were there like Frank Bruno, film and pop stars, racing drivers like James Hunt and Cliff Richard was there too.”

Meeting the stars

“I used to do work for Pinewood studios. At one stage we had Roger Moore as Simon Templar and I picked him up at Lymington. He was on the boat for a few minutes, punched someone over the side and that was all.

“Jack Hargreaves who used to present Out of Town was a lovely man. I used to work with him a lot and he used to take the Christmas tree and the Christmas cakes that members of the Yacht Club at Lymington used to bake out, to the keepers at the Needles lighthouse. Lots of yachts used to follow us down from Lymington to watch us hand it over.”

And the Royals…

“I’ve been to three or four garden parties at the Palace and I’ve met all of the royals. I’ve got a letter from Lord Mountbatten of Burma thanking me for mending his prawning net! We’ve had the Duchess and Duke of Kent on the lifeboat – the Duke named the last two lifeboats.

“On the Queen Mother’s birthday we escorted her around on the Spithead Review and we talked about lifeboating for quite a time. The MBE was given to me at Buckingham Palace in 1995 by Prince Charles. When the Duke of Edinburgh came to open Yarmouth Pier I was invited to the head of the pier with the harbour commissioners.”