On Monday, August 23rd, 1999, before we'd had any time to recover
from our two days at the Brighton
Millennium Sixties Festival, Chris and I had to wend our way to Clacton.
I was booked to make an RNI guest appearance on Ray's Coffee Break, the following
morning. The date had been arranged to coincide with Tony Currie's spell aboard
the Mebo III, so that we could meet up again with the loony we had not seen
since our first encounter during Big L '97 on the Yeoman Rose. All of us had
unwittingly been anticipating finding it as easy to get on and off the lightship
as it had been (on the whole) with the Rose. Unfortunately, not only was the
Mebo III much less accessible position-wise, than the Rose, but unlike the summer
of '97, the weather during most of the RSL was atrocious.
On the Tuesday morning, the wind was up and reports of the sea conditions coming from the Mebo III sounded pretty dire. Chris and I were only in the area for the day, and had to drive home to Bucks that evening. We made our way to Holland-on-Sea and parked on the front so that I could use the mobile to call the boatyard at Jaywick. Doug Taylor, the tender owner, was not at all optimistic of getting me to the ship, but he said he would review the situation when the tide turned at around 11.00am. If I rang back then, he would consider taking me out there on the rigid inflatable boat. I waited till Ray started playing a record, then called him to tell him there was a chance I might make it to the ship for a late Coffee Break appearance.
With time to kill, Chris and I made our way down Clacton pier, to purchase some goodies from Ray's Pirate Shop and have a chat with his son, Simon. At the appointed time, I tried to call the boathouse back, but was getting no response. We went back to the car, but I was still having no luck getting through to Taylor's Boatyard, so we decided we'd drive to Jaywick anyway. What we did not know was that the phones had gone down, and during our trip back to the car, we had missed the message that Geoff had asked Ray to broadcast, telling us to make our way to the boatyard.
Having watched from the pier as the waves crashed ashore, I was under absolutely no illusions about how rough the sea was or how wet I was likely to get. I had a change of clothes on standby in the car. I'm positive everyone at the boathouse thought I was barking, but I'm a committed Anorak, aren't I? Doug could see I was pretty determined, and if he was prepared to risk taking the RIB out, I would risk being on it. Barbara kindly lent me her very expensive dry suit, so, exquisitely kitted-out for the occasion, with lifejacket firmly in place, I kissed Chris goodbye. As we made our way down to the beach to launch the RIB, RNI went off the air. This did not bode well. I took my place on the seat behind Doug, and when he advised me to hold on tight to him, and I didn't kneed any second bidding!
Perhaps it was just as well I'd removed my glasses and stashed them safely inside a waterproof bag with my camera, and couldn't see much of what lay ahead. All I know is that the Mebo III never seemed to get any nearer. As the RIB ploughed its way towards the ship, the waves were increasing in size. I got bashed to hell, particularly at one point, when the boat's engine caught the edge of a 9ft wave and the RIB nearly flipped right over. This was when I fell right off the seat, sustaining a bruise on my inner left thigh the size of Antarctica, a battered botty, a rather painful neck and God knows what else. Happily, my knees remained intact, but the rest of me ended up feeling like I'd gone 10 rounds with Cassius Clay! Tony Currie, watching our slow progress towards the Mebo III, had seen the RIB fall off that huge wave and been convinced that both Doug and I were heading for Davy Jones's Locker.
RNI went off the air again as soon as I struggled aboard, because two of the three aerial support cables had blown down. After my struggle to get out there, it was now touch-and-go as to whether I'd make it on the air at all, (and also whether I'd get back ashore) but the station came back on reduced power. (Quote, Howie Castle: "Reduced power? On ONE watt??")
Safely on the ship, I drank a welcome cup of galley tea, which Tony hoped might stop me from shaking! I presented Ray (who had finished his show by this time) with the gift that I had nearly drowned in trying to get to him - a bottle of delicious Camp Coffee! (See caption competition below.) I'd also taken with me a couple of photos of a certain ex-Caroline DJ. Ray, of course, knew who it was, because he already knew who we'd been to visit in San Diego, but we had to give clues to Tony and Dave Rogers.
I did a very short on-air chat with Dave Rogers while Tony performed his David Bailey act and captured the event for posterity. Dave, an RNI original, had been aboard the ship when the station, in one of her previous incarnations, had been invaded by a mad Dutchman carrying a firebomb. Which leads me to suspect that nothing that occurred during the 1999 RSL would have surprised Dave. I had my fingers crossed that Chris was still managing to pick up the station and get a decent recording of it in the car at Jaywick.Left: I'm the one with the lifejacket and the soaking, salty hair, about to be presented with the Golden Dufflecoat Award...
As it turned out, the hardest part of the return journey was transferring my trembling body from the rope ladder on the Mebo III to the rocking inflatable. I wished I could have been lowered down in a bucket like my camera! Doug enjoyed surfing back on the tops of the breakers (in a funny sort of way, so did I) and we were back at Jaywick beach in about 15 minutes. Doug's wife, April, was astonished when he radioed to say we were back so quickly. The outward trip had taken us the best part of 50 minutes.
Right: Salty Mary, Dripping Doug and Dry Ray
Later, after washing a ton of salt from my face, I was recovering from my ordeal in a pub in Clacton, and listening to RNI on my Walkman. Ray came into the studio to talk to Tony, and they were discussing the feasibility of Ray getting ashore later that afternoon. Apparently, Ray's only waterproof gear was a plastic dustbin liner. Surely, someone managed to photograph this historic fashion event?
The main purpose of my Coffee Break appearance had been to talk to Ray about the Rainbow Ffolly CD 'Sallies Fforth', for which I wrote the sleevenotes. Despite all my efforts to reach the ship, I never got the chance to mention Rainbow Ffolly at all. My article about 'Sallies Fforth', which was originally scheduled to appear in JULY 1998's 'Record Collector,' finally graced the November '99 issue, and now features on this website.
Oh well, I can always be a Coffee Break guest on the next broadcast. I had the misfortune to pick a day to go out to the ship when the weather chose to be the worst possible. The following day, the North Sea calmed down again and boats got out to the Mebo III with no problems. That's offshore radio for you.
The following day, I received a letter and knee-mails from various anxious friends who had heard Ray broadcasting the message for me to go down to Jaywick to catch the RIB, but once RNI had gone to reduced power, they had been unable to pick up the signal and had no idea if I'd made it to the Mebo III or not.
Left: Ray prepares to perform a mess-room exorcism, using
a bottle of holy North Sea Camp coffee, especially transported to the ship by
Chris and I contemplated taking candid shots of my Offshore Bruise for inclusion on this site, but as we discovered grown men were apt to blanch and throw-up at the sight, we thought better of it. All that's left now is a faint, grey ghost, where it used to be. Spookily enough, as Dame Edna would say, it sometimes tingles for no apparent reason. Our friend Pauline has suggested that it's probably Jack, the Mebo III's resident mess-room ghost, trying to communicate his displeasure at having the locker where he died firmly bolted shut!