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The most famous, and arguably dangerous, occasion when lifeboat assistance was provided to an offshore radio ship occurred on 19th  March 1980 when the Radio Caroline ship, Mi Amigo was in severe difficulties off the Essex coast. Assistance was provided by the crew of the Sheerness Lifeboat, Helen Turnbull.

The radio ship's anchor chain had broken at about 1.30pm and she began to drift. The crew worked for two hours to lower the emergency anchor, which they succeeded in doing, but the Mi Amigo had by then hit the edge of the Long Sand sandbank. Apart from coded messages to supporters on shore no announcements or pleas for assistance were broadcast to listeners.

The Coastguard Service had been advised of the problem over the emergency channel and they arranged for a lifeboat to be placed on stand-by. A short while later, at 6.15pm, with weather conditions deteriorating, the Sheerness lifeboat, Helen Turnbull, was launched and waited about a mile from the radio ship until it could get closer once the tide started to rise. For about two hours the crew of the lifeboat, now only 50 yards from the Mi Amigo, tried to persuade the four men on board to leave.

About 9.30pm, with the tide rising, the Mi Amigo was being repeatedly pounded on the sandbank in the heavy seas and Force 9 easterly gales. Without warning she started to take in a huge volume of water and for a while the crew still refused to leave the vessel, preferring instead to try and sit out the storm and hope the emergency pumps would be able to cope until a tender arrived to tow them back to their normal anchorage.

However, the situation deteriorated very quickly and  the crew had to abandon ship in such a hurry that they didn’t even have time to pack their personal belongings. The station's master tapes, which had been packed in a waterproof bag also had to be left behind.

It took the lifeboat nearly an hour to get the four men (DJs Tom Anderson, Stevie Gordon, Nick Richards and Dutch engineer, Hans Verlaan) and Wilson II, the ship's canary, off the sinking radio ship. The crew of the lifeboat repeatedly risked their lives in mountainous seas to successfully achieve this rescue operation.

Charles Bowrey’s son told the Kent Messenger - “I didn’t realise how serious it was until that night’s episode of Dallas on the TV was interrupted by a newsflash saying Radio Caroline was sinking.” . He still has his father’s original typewritten report of the rescue.

Mr Bowry wrote:-

“The lifeboat reached the stricken ship at 8.25pm. The ship could be seen rolling and pitching violently. Three crew members were on deck plus one in the wheelhouse. Heavy and confused seas were throwing the lifeboat in every direction.

At one stage the deck of the Mi Amigo towered 20 feet above the lifeboat. It took four attempts to pull the youngest aboard the lifeboat and another five to get the second aboard.

The crew member with the canary dashed along the deck from where he had been sheltering and flung himself aboard the lifeboat. His actions caught us by surprise as the lifeboat was flung against the ship’s side, bending our outboard guardrails.

We told the remaining occupant not to jump as there was a danger of him being crushed between the two vessels. He was standing on the gunwale clinging to a stay and at times knee-deep in water. It took three more attempts to grab him.”


The all-weather Waveney-class lifeboat, Helen Turnbull,  originally cost £100,000 and was stationed at Sheerness from 1974 to 1996, during which time it was launched 649 times and saved 297 lives.

The Helen Turnbull’s  most famous launch was at 6.15pm on 19th March 1980, when the crew received the call to go to the assistance of Radio Caroline’s ship,  Mi Amigo.

The crew of the Helen Turnbull that night were - Coxswain, Charles Bowrey, Second Coxswain Arthur Lukey, Assistant Mechanic, Roderick ‘Ricky’ Underhill, Malcolm Keen, Ian McCourt and William ‘Les’ Edwards,.

It was the RNLI’s third lifeboat for Sheerness and replaced the Gertrude on 4th April  1974. It was itself replaced by the Trent-class George and Ivy Swanson in March 1996.

The Helen Turnbull later served in Ireland between 1996 and 1998 before being retired by the RNLI and was sold to a private purchaser in 1999.

The  vessel has since been converted into a six-berth pleasure boat with an additional cabin, galley with fridge and twin Caterpillar 3208T marine diesel engines and re-named Badger. She was based at Douglas on the Isle of Man and has her own eight-man life raft and 12 life jackets.

The Badger was sold again in 2016 by Irish company Nelson’s Boats, based in County Down.

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Artists impression of Helen Turnbull alongside the Mi Amigo during the dramatic rescue.(George Button)

Badger (ex- Helen Turnbull)

Photo: Nelsons Boats



Lifeboat Launches (1962-67)

Lifeboat Launches (1970 - 1990)

Mi Amigo Rescue


Emergency Organisations