In last week’s column I started the story of a Douglas maritime emergency and the brave lifeboat crew from 1970 that had featured in the ‘Sunday Express of February 28, 1978. Here’s the second part of what happened next... Coxswain, 63 year old Bobby Lee and crew, had set off from Douglas Harbour with Douglas boatman John Clague in real difficulties after an engine failure off Little Ness with a full boat load of holidaymakers on board.

Bobby knew he was in a race against time with the lives of 47 men, women and children as the price. It would take him half an hour to reach the vessel.

Could he make it before the pleasure boat was smashed to pieces on the rocks? Grimly he hung on to the wheel as the boat battered tenaciously through the heavy waves, cutting the corner as close as he dare as he rounded Douglas Head.

The seas were even worse than he expected. Once out of the shelter of the land he and his expert crew of five were ducking and flinching as steep waves broke over the stern, sluicing the entire length of the deck.

‘Have you spotted him yet?’ Bobby called anxiously to Harry Martland who was acting as lookout in the bows.

‘Not yet. Can’t see for the headland.’

Lee tightened his lips. Bad news - very bad. It meant that the Mary Anne was even closer to the shore than he had feared.

He could only hope that Clague, an old friend and former lifeboat man, had somehow managed to anchor.

Two minutes later, the shifting perspective of cliffs and coves brought her into view a couple of miles ahead.

‘I can see her now!’ Martland yelled. ‘She’s damned close in!’ She was indeed frighteningly near to the white water boiling around the reef.

Lee with 31 lives to his credit since becoming cox in 1943, a total of 47 years lifeboat service behind him and a BEM for gallantry, knew there was nothing he could do but maintain his present course and hope. As he drew closer he could hear a confused chorus of cries for help. Screams of fear from children clinging to their parents for comfort, a woman sobbing and John Clague’s voice calm, reassuring keeping wild panic at bay.

Over the boat’s side hung the anchor chain a useless, desperate gesture for in such deep waters there was no chance of it catching on to anything more substantial than floating seaweed. Lee notched the wheel over to the right as the Mary Anne jinked nearer the reef.

Now everything hinged on a three-side equation. Time, distance and the elements.

None of these factors was within his control; all there was were his skill and timing at the actual moment of rescue.

What was it he had always said? You must put your trust in the boat, your crew and god. Now was the time.

His voice long accustomed to giving orders was loud and firm.

‘Right Pat, get the grappling iron.’

Pat Stowell the second cox obeyed and waited for further instructions.

‘Now we haven’t a cat in hells chance of taking all those people off before she hits the rocks, so we’re going in fast on her seaward side.

‘Pat you stand in the waist and when I give you the word hook her with the grappling iron and don’t miss - it’ll be the only chance we get.’ ‘Peter get ready with the throttles we’ll be moving fast when Pat hooks her.

‘I don’t want to overrun or break the rope, so when I shout for full astern I want it fast and give it all she’s got.’

Mechanic Veale nodded. The sombre truth of what Lee had said was evident to all the lifeboatmen.

There would be no second chance and 47 people would die. By now the Mary Anne was only 15 yards from splintering annihilation.

Bawling at the top of his voice as he bore down on the boat, Lee called to Clague: ‘John stand by to take a line.’

Clague raised a thumb. His normally tanned face looked pale. He too knew the fine line between salvation and almost certain death. Pat Stowell stood by the starboard rails whirling the heavy grappling iron and bracing himself against the pitching deck as the lifeboat roared at full throttle.

Lee gave a bull-like roar: ‘Right now!’

Stowell let the coiled rope go. The heavy spiked iron curled into the air, a dark blot against the impossibly blue sky.

Fifty two pairs of eyes followed its progress as it sailed across the 10-foot gap. Bobby’s next order was to mechanic Veale: ‘Full astern now!’

The chunky screws buried deep in their tunnels beneath the hull stopped momentarily and then spun in reverse as Veale threw his gear shift and slammed the throttles wide open.

Water boiled all around the lifeboat, her bows dipped and she slewed to a halt beside the Mary Anne.

In the same instant the grappling iron bit with a solid ‘thunk’ into the stout timber gunwales of the drifting boat. Swiftly but not so fast as to risk dislodging the line Stowell hauled in the slack and took a couple of turns around a bollard.

There was a moment’s silence. A lifeboatman whooped jubilantly: ‘Bloody good shot Pat!’

A burst of wild cheering and applause erupted on the crowded decks of the pleasure boat. With the heavy lifeboat acting as a drag anchor the Mary Anne was saved from drifting on to the rocks. It had been a close run thing. The crash of breakers was so near the spray from the reef hung like a curtain above the soaked trippers.

A few minutes longer and it would have been too late. The line between the vessels became taut as the lifeboat took the strain and edged gently forward. As they felt the Mary Anne swing and begin to move the cold and wet holidaymakers redoubled their cheering.

Yard by yard they edged away from the breakers and rocks.

When they had put a healthy distance between the Mary Anne and Little Ness, Lee yelled across to Clague: ‘John get the line on to your bow so we can tow you straight.’

The boatman did as instructed and at a steady pace the Colby Cubbin hauled pinnace through the waves towards her original destination of Port Soderick.

Though it was little more than a mile and a half to the comparatively sheltered waters of the bay, the journey took 45 minutes.

Lee and his crew were on tenterhooks all the way for it is tragically easy for a towed boat to sheer in heavy waters and capsize, dragged over by the very rope that was its lifeline. When the lifeboat returned to Douglas after saving 47 lives it was to a justly deserved ecstatic welcome. Bobby had never been kissed so many times in all his life.

Thank you lifeboat men for your valour - you really are heroes.

David Cretney - (Isle of Man Newspapers)