'A boat goes forward only when the crew row together' - Proverb The worst hurricane for over a century devastated the south coast of England in 1866, during a period when emergency services were in their infancy. In the town of Poole, Dorset, the newly-appointed lifeboat is launched to aid the numerous stricken ships in the vicinity but unaccountably fails to save any lives. Many sailors are drowned as a result. In an era when gallantry and self-sacrifice were expected, the lifeboatmen are publicly accused of cowardice by the Mayor and local dignitaries creating a serious rift in a close-knit community. It is in this atmosphere of suspicion and blame that lifeboat coxswain Richard Stokes finds himself, tasked with overcoming a prevailing sense of pessimism and creating a viable team which will be ready for the next maritime emergency. By recognising the weaknesses that lie within both his crew and himself, he endeavours to take the sometimes painful steps to put them right. In a divided community battered by the rages of the sea, relationships and loyalties are tested in dramatic style.
When an opportunity eventually presents itself for the lifeboatmen to test their mettle, they are prepared to put all plans in action and present a courageous front. In violent seas, they are called to a treacherously unstable wreck with forty-six men trapped on board. Will Richard and his men be able to save all souls on board and redeem past mistakes, or will this be yet another opportunity for the community to blast their efforts and deem their services dangerously insufficient? This fast paced true story portrays an authentic and enthralling evocation of a nineteenth century seafaring community on the brink of great change.
Simon Willis is a maritime genealogist. This is his first work of fiction, borne of extensive research into the social and maritime history of Poole and the early days of the lifeboat services. He is a regular contributor to Family Tree, Your Family History, Family History Monthly and others. He writes mainly about history and maritime genealogy, and he has been researching maritime ancestors for over twenty years. He also works as an information specialist, writer and advisor to the National Health Service and other healthcare organizations. He is the author of the Pen and Sword titles How Our Ancestors Died (2013) and Tracing your Merchant Navy Ancestors (2012).