The Boat Pull

If you were down on the beach today, a strange sight would have met your eyes. The boat pull competition took place on the beach of Westward Ho! this morning, Saturday 24th of July. Teams of six had been invited to sign up to race across the sand, around two RNLI flags, and back to the finishing line. The two boats were small yachts, their sail furled tight around their mast, still on their trailers. The teams ran in heats, the winner of each one, going through to the exciting final, when competitive teams raced neck to neck across the sands to cheering crowds.

The competition was a fundraising event to support the Appledore RNLI, who have struggled to raise much needed funds this year, due to covid and lockdown. Despite the small crowd of curious holiday-makers, it was a very touching scene in the corner of the wide sands. We have been denied so long the witnessing of teams, groups of people gathered together, visions of common purpose in union with others. I think it was this that attracted others and  the event slowly gathered momentum, as more people lined the walls along the promenade to look down on the racing. More and more people stopped to clap and cheer as the boats lurched along the race track, pitching dangerously around the flags – sometimes going over rather than round, causing a team to lag behind as they got tied up with boat, flag, trailer and each other.

The event was inspired by the historic heroics of the RNLI lifeboat men, who would have to pull the boats, then heavy wooden vessels, across sand or pebbles to reach a stormy sea, to venture into the towering waves to attempt a rescue. The small dinghies flying along the beach as heels flew and sand churned from the pummelling feet of those pulling them, is a long way from the days of dark nights, heavy boats and teams clad in oilskins and wellington boots on the start of a rescue into raging seas – but the memory of these ghosts lurked nonetheless in one’s mind as we cheered the teams on: The RNLI flags flapped furiously overhead and team spirit was clearly as much a part of today’s activities, as was required long ago, and through all time, for rescuing those who were in difficulty around our coasts.

Six teams had signed up to compete. The ‘Richie King’ team arrived clad in long white dresses and blue wigs bringing along a sense of carnival and fun. There was a team from the Appledore Gig Racing Club, scary looking opponents all in their matching tops, jogging on the spot to warm up. There were runners from the Appledore Boatyard smart in their white T shirts, and the quiet unassuming grey top clad Team Brend Hotel who were to reveal hidden talent and easily outstripped competition to reach the semi finals, only to lose out finally to the loud energetic Skern Lodge group. And finally came the mighty ‘Boaty Mc Boat Face’ Team, an impressive group of muscles and strength who flew their way into the finals. As more crowds were attracted to the event, inspired by the commitment of the teams and their serious competitiveness, the excitement grew for the final race: Skern Lodge versus ‘Boaty Mc Boat Face’. They were neck to neck speeding up towards the flags, but the Boaty crew turned too close to the flag and were slowed as the wheels had to be tugged over the stones holding the flags in place. Then it was a race to the finish. The Boasty team tried to catch up: Gaining all the time. Both teams hurled themselves over the finish line. It was too close to tell. The crowd stayed around to hear the final outcome – Skern Lodge had won by one second. A worthy and heart-warming time for both competitors and onlookers as we cautiously all emerge after ‘freedom day’ into a ‘new normal’.

Annemarie Munro