I was reminded recently of some of the times when I have benefited from a case of mistaken identity, some of which I have mentioned here before. One of the times that I have made a fleeting reference to before was when I was mistaken for taking part in an air sea rescue exercise, unlikely as this may seem. I have previously mentioned some of the more interesting ferry journeys that I have experienced, including in Sierra Leone and Laos, where ferries are somewhat different than in the UK. Travelling by water in the UK is made safer by the wonderful – and voluntary – work done by the RNLI, and many people in this country owe their lives to the people of the RNLI. I was asked, almost twenty years ago, to help with some fundraising for the RNLI on the local ferry from Larne in Northern Ireland to Cairnryan on Scotland. This was so long ago that I even had hair then.
Yes, that really is me with all that hair.
James and I got on board the ship in Larne, and the captain was kind enough to invite us on to the bridge to watch us sail out of harbour. We watched with interest as the ship left the port, and at that stage, the RAF made contact and asked if they could practice an air sea rescue drill en route. The captain permitted this, with the proviso that this could be limited to the front of the ship so as not to disturb the sheep being transported in trucks at the back of the ship. He made an announcement to those on the ferry not to be alarmed, and that there would be a drill where an air sea rescue exercise would be carried out at the front of the ship. James and I stayed on the bridge and watched as a sea king helicopter came in to view, hovered over the front of the ship, and watched as the helicopter crew practiced landing someone on the ship and taking them off again several times, then radioed to say thank you, and flew off. At that stage, we started walking around the ship looking for donations for the RNLI. We were dressed as per the picture above, but with the addition of large, luminous jackets. We were quite surprised at the positive reaction from those on the ship, and how many were showing interest in what we were doing. It slowly occurred to us that there was a belief that we had just been winched onto the ship to collect for the RNLI. Once we had made a couple of trips around the ship, feeling like minor celebrities as everyone seemed to want to talk to us, we made our way to the on ship restaurant to have some food. “Are your colleagues coming back to pick you up?” asked one of the staff whilst serving our lunch. “What’s he talking about?” whispered James. “No, whilst we’re here, we thought we would sail all the way over”, I replied. We tried to pay for lunch. “No, it’s on the house”, was the response.
We got to Cairnryan, amused by all of the positive attention that we had received on the way over. We waited there for the ship to turn around, and then it loaded up and we sailed back towards Larne. After leaving harbour, again, we walked around the ship and collected for the RNLI. We had a more nonplussed response this time, although one passenger did point out to us that he would have felt churlish not making a donation just in case the very, very unlikely scenario occurred where we would actually need some help or rescuing.
Our somewhat more subdued response on the return was probably more like what we expected on the outbound leg. That said, it may have been less fun – and less odd – than the way out, but at least we knew that the whole adventure was, in helping the RNLI, doing some good.