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Dartmouth lower ferry crew ferry phraised for bravery

TWO Dartmouth Lower Ferry skippers and their crews have been recognised for the part they played in fighting two potentially devastating mid-river boat fires. They have received merit awards for their skill and bravery shown at both incidents last month. Cllr Bryan Carson, chairman of South Hams Council, made the presentation to skipper William Davis, of Dartmouth, and his float-man Josh Timbrell, of Kingswear, who ferried the fire service to a blaze aboard the African Queen on March 10. He also presented a merit award to skipper Nick Bell, of Dartmouth, and skipper Mark Abraham, of Stoke Fleming, who acted as float man only six days later when Blue Storm, a 25ft Bayliner, burst into flames and burnt through her nylon mooring ropes and threatened to set other moored craft alight close to the Kingswear bank of the river. Both operations required high skill and courage to manoeuvre the 115ft-long, 60ft-wide float and tug with a fire engine on board through the maze of mooring trots on the river – with only a few feet to spare on either side. Two of the crews had to be roused from their bed, others had just finished a 6.30am to 7pm shift and then went back to pilot the ferry from 11am until 4.30am. Although the second call only lasted around two hours, it was potentially more deadly,’ said a South Hams Council spokesman. The boat, being glass-reinforced plastic, was well alight and as fast as it was doused burst again into a fireball. It was a total loss. Skipper Nick said: ‘Luckily it was almost bottom of the tide with little wind, but we had to get down through the trots. We had about 4ft spare either side and the tide was so low we did ground at one point. But we didn’t need pulling off as some reports said – just help in turning around.’ His float man on the night, fellow skipper Mark Abrahams said: ‘We needed help in turning. I came up with the idea of using the fire hoses to turn the ferry. It worked slowly with the help of the RNLI lifeboat. When it came to keeping the burning Bayliner away from other boats we propelled it on the mud using the fire hoses.’ ‘This call out was difficult enough, but it was a walk in the park compared to keeping this ferry service running in the bad weather this winter. When the other ferries are unable to run, we are the only way that school children can get home and workers to work. The tugs have plenty of power and the skills of the skippers keep the passengers and motorists safe at all times.’ Cllr Bryan Carson said: ‘These crews together have clocked up over 72 years service on the ferry. Those skills that they put to use in ferrying the fire engines into difficult locations are the ones that keep this service running rain or shine. This is about dedication, fine seamanship and a single-minded attention to service. They are a great credit to the ferry service and South Hams.’ Lower Ferry manager Pat Webb said: ‘I am really fortunate to have a staff so dedicated to keeping the ferry running safely at all times. I am always proud of them. They never let me down and I know they can do it. I never have to worry.’

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