SIX MEMBERS OF Exmouth's RNLI lifeboat volunteer crew have cycled round the Exe estuary in full all-weather lifeboat kit, raising more than £1,600 towards the cost of their new launch and recovery vehicle. Along the way they encountered mud, sweat and gears, bacon sandwiches and the Exmouth Shanty Men…
The sponsored 22-mile ride, from Dawlish to Exmouth via the Exeter swing bridge, took the Six On Saddles team nearly five hours, with stop-offs along the way. The ride had two objectives – fundraising and meeting and greeting.
"We're getting a new lifeboat and a new launch and recovery system next year, and we're raising a proportion of the cost towards that," said Mark "Max" Champion, the ride's organizer. "We also wanted to go round the Exe and thank the people who regularly support Exmouth Lifeboat, such as Starcross Fishing and Cruising Club, Topsham Sailing Club, Lympstone Sailing Club and the Exe Sailing Club.
"In addition we wanted to tie it in with the SOS day – the national fundraising day that the RNLI holds – which is this coming Friday [25 January]. So we thought we could roll the whole thing into one and do a cycle ride, meet and greet lots of people and raise some money along the way."
The Six On Saddles team comprised airline pilot Mark Champion, dentist Hedley Saunders, boatyard worker Steve Satchell, nurse Lee Manning, maritime security professional David Preece and life coach Paul Fox. For the ride they dressed in yellow wellies, lifeboat leggings, jackets and helmets. And if that wasn't enough, three of them also strapped foam SOS letters to their backs to publicise RNLI's SOS day.
The RNLI cyclists left Dawlish football ground promptly at 10.30am, but it wasn't all plain sailing…
"We used cycle paths where we could," said Mark. "That presented us with a challenge between Starcross and the swing bridge at Exeter, because some of that is very narrow and it's quite muddy, and we had a mixture of full off-road bikes and road bikes. Steve did very well with his road bike on the muddy bits, but when we got on to the roads, those with the off-road bikes struggled a bit. At one stage Lee's gears froze, so he got stuck in one gear."
Fortunately the team were assisted by Chris Warburton of Knobblies bike shop of Exmouth, who was following close behind.
"Knobblies were brilliant," said Mark. "They met us over at Dawlish, gave all the bikes a quick once-over, tweaked a few bits on some of the bikes and followed us around. They've given us a lot of technical support."
Warm water quickly sorted out the frozen gears and the team were soon on the way again. Also escorting the cyclists in a lifeguard 4x4 vehicle were Doctors Colin May and Peter Aitken, ready to provide first-aid cover.
"Although it was cold, we managed to keep to the time pretty well," said Mark. "The only part of the route we were tight on time was Darts Farm to Lympstone Sailing Club. People were approaching us to put money in our bucket and we had a nice reception from everywhere we stopped. We were even treated to bacon sandwiches at Starcross Fishing and Cruising Club!"
Other sailing clubs along the route joined in the fundraising. Topsham Sailing Club presented the team with a cheque for £100 and Exe Sailing Club donated 50p from each meal sold on the day to the event. Darts Farm kindly provided a quick 'packed lunch' for the volunteers in their café.
"Bearing in mind that it was a Sunday in January and it was cold, the reception was very good," said Mark. "Everywhere we went, we were met, offered drinks and something to nibble on, and club members came down to come and say hello and to meet and greet us."
Tea and cakes
At around 3.15pm the cyclists arrived at the Exmouth RNLI boathouse on Queen's Drive. Here they were met by a large crowd, who gave them a hearty cheer. And, along with tea, more sandwiches and cakes, the Exmouth Shanty Men were also on hand to welcome the team home, with some rousing shanties.
"I think it's great that the crew can get involved in fundraising," said Emma Tarling, Exmouth RNLI's press officer. "They are the ones that the charity trains up to save lives at sea, and they are the ones who are going to be using the new equipment we're raising money for. The new equipment will cut down the recovery and launch time of the new Shannon class lifeboat. Saving time means saving lives.
"We wanted an occasion to celebrate the team's return. As we're taking part in the RNLI SOS day on Friday, I suggested getting the Exmouth Shanty Men to sing some shanties and to get more people attracted to the boathouse to take part in some fundraising."
How you can donate
To date, the Six On Saddles ride has raised more than £1,600, with more money to come from the donating buckets along the route.
If you'd like to sponsor Six On Saddles, you can do so up until 31 March. Go to