Fleet blessing remembers those at sea
Saturday 31st August 2013, 10:00AM BST.
ALDERNEY’S fishermen, the lifeboat and its crew, parishioners and clergy recently gathered at the harbour for the annual blessing of the fleet.
The service, believed to have begun in the 1980s, is performed to keep those who work and play at sea safe from harm.
The service was led by religious leaders from the island’s Anglican, Methodist, Salvation Army and Quaker denominations.
One of those was Ray Gaudion, president of the Alderney Licensed Commercial Fishing Vessels Association.
He was recently awarded the RNLI’s gold badge for long service. Mr Gaudion, 68, has acted as deputy launch officer since 1984. With his wealth of maritime experience, he is one of those charged with making the decision as to whether to send out the RNLI lifeboat or to call it back if he feels the crew are putting themselves in danger. In 30 years of service, he has only ever called it back once.
Before the island had an official lifeboat, as the owner of the only vessel with radar technology Mr Gaudion was the man most often called out to sailors in distress.
He recalls driving down from Tourgis one day in 1979 when he saw a yacht in a rough sea capsized by a huge surge of water. Mr Gaudion scrambled his boat and went to help. Alongside the stricken vessel he found the sole survivor, a Frenchman, who had managed to grab a wire stay as the waves hit. He hands were skinned but he was safe.
‘A big wave jumped aboard and the last he had seen of his sister and her little girl, the other two people on the boat, was as they were washed away. That was the most heart rending rescue I’ve ever been involved in,’ he said.
Putting himself at risk to help others has been an occupational hazard. He remembers climbing down a ladder inside the breakwater to save and tie up a dinghy. ‘I heard a big one [wave] break behind me and the next thing I knew white water was over me and I could not see the surface, and I thought, that’s me gone. But I survived.’
However, not everyone has been grateful. He remembers once towing in a luxury yacht which would have been smashed against rocks if it had been left where it was anchored. The owner threatened to sue him for touching his vessel.
Despite that, he has never ignored a distress call. ‘You just can’t,’ he said.
‘I’ve cut gear and pots to get out to where a person is in trouble. You can’t leave them to the sea.’
Mr Gaudion was presented with his RNLI gold badge by States President and former RNLI crewmember Stuart Trought.