On the night of the 15/16th October 1987, & the infamous hurricane that weather forecaster Michael Fish said was not going to happen. The volunteers of Weymouth RNLI lifeboat launched in the early hours of the morning to go to the assistance of the catamaran ‘Sunbeam Chaser’ reported to be in trouble 18 miles South of Portland Bill.
HMS Birmingham was in close proximity to the yacht when the lifeboat arrived on scene and had been spreading oil on the water in an attempt to calm the water close to the casualty vessel.
In the force 12 hurricane force winds and huge running seas the lifeboat managed to get alongside the vessel and took off five members of the crew who were in fear of their lives. Strangely, the skipper of the yacht refused to acknowledge the presence of the lifeboat and stayed doggedly with his vessel.
Torn between the need to get the 3 men, 2 women and a youth to shore and the need to ensure the safety of the yacht skipper. Coxswain Derek Sargent decided that he could not leave the catamaran, so the lifeboat stood by the vessel, and escorted the yacht back to Weymouth Harbour.
Interviewed later that day, Derek said, ‘it was the worst trip that he had ever been on in his 20 years on the lifeboat’. He declined to comment when asked his opinion on the wisdom of going to sea in such horrendous sea conditions.
For his bravery and outstanding seamanship as Coxswain of the Arun Class lifeboat ‘Tony Vandervell’ Derek Sargent was awarded a bronze medal.
In the official report of the incident Lieutenant John Unwin, divisional inspector of lifeboats for the south west, said: “Coxswain / mechanic, Derek Sargent showed outstanding boat handling and leadership in extremely difficult conditions and calm perseverance throughout the service.”
In 1999 the other members of the crew, Colin Pavey, Graham Keates, Chris Tett, Robin Blues, Dave Pitman and Bob Gray, all received bronze badges to go alongside the certificates that they were awarded at the time.
Graham Keates is still serving as a volunteer crew on the lifeboat.
In 2003 Derek Sargent was also awarded an MBE in the New Years Honours List