THE SEA can be a cruel mistress, where conditions can change so rapidly that it can catch even the most experienced of sailors out.
No one can anticipate when they may need to call upon the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, not even the volunteers themselves - as Chris Steel can testify.
Ten years ago, the construction worker signed up to become a member of the crew in Scarborough. A sailing enthusiast with good knowledge of the Yorkshire coast, he felt he fit the bill.
Yet just four weeks later, things turned on their head when the father-of-one required rescuing himself.
“My friend had just bought a second-hand yacht,” explained Mr Steel.
“There were five of us, all into sailing, who decided to take it out.”
The group set off on a mild Sunday afternoon in October but just half-a-mile from the shore they were hit by equipment failure causing what is known as a Chinese gybe - where the boat spins to windward - throwing two of the passengers overboard.
The 50-year-old said: “Even though we have all been out on boats before, you don’t know what you’re getting when you buy a second-hand one until you’re out there. It’s like buying a car.”
While the party managed to pull one of their men back on to the yacht straight away, the other had to be plucked from the sea by another boat taking part in a race.
The remaining sailors issued a ‘pan-pan’ distress call and within minutes, Mr Steel’s new colleagues at the lifeboat station were on the scene.
“It was quite a shock and a real eye-opener, seeing them drifting away off the back of the boat,” added Mr Steel.
“We all had our lifejackets, but it just shows how quickly it all changes.
“At that stage I hadn’t even been out on any rescues myself. I expected some mickey-taking but they were completely professional.”
The men were pulled safely to shore, but a more frightening ordeal awaited the father-of-one back on the land.
Mr Steel said: “I’d told my wife I’d been at work so I could go out on the boat, the next day we were in the paper for being rescued. Her finding out I’d lied was far more terrifying.”
Jokes aside, experiencing his own near-disaster inspired him all the more and just over a decade on, he’s as dedicated as ever.
Even if he’s just sitting down to dinner after a hard day’s work, or fast asleep, when the pager bleeps he is ready for action. While the rest of the nation gathered in front of television screens during a bank holiday for the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge back in 2011, the Scarborough RNLI crew listened over the lifeboat’s radio system during an eight-hour rescue.
“You treat it like a job, you realise that you’re just there to do what you’re trained to do,” said Mr Steel.
The passion for the sea, and ensuring everyone can enjoy it, is one which has passed on to his 11-year-old son Hamish, a member of the local sea cadets.
While young Hamish might form the next generation of lifeboat crew, Mr Steel is hoping to resist retirement for long enough to spend a good few years aboard the new Shannon class lifeboat.
And to make this dream a reality, The Yorkshire Post’s Christmas appeal is raising money towards the £200,000 needed to buy the specialist equipment needed to launch the vessel on rescues. Each week readers can bid on ‘money can’t buy’ lots in our charity auction.
“It would be a great Christmas present, I’m hoping I’ve got another few years in me yet to be able to use it,” said Mr Steel.