From Hot Bath to Hovercraft Members’ Post

Tony Hawkins, Dover RNLI Station Manager and retired Coxswain, Saturday 29th September 2018

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“We could see passengers hanging out over the hole…”

— Tony Hawkins, Dover RNLI Retired Coxswain

With months of reinvention complete, I’m enjoying the luxury of some headspace for more creative matters once again. Believe it or not, this blog post started forming in my brain box as far back as last October when I was contacted by Country Living magazine.

It’s hard to imagine that The LSP Society didn’t exist then but, knowing what we know now, it’s perhaps easy to imagine why it’s taken so long to return to the joys of putting something like this together for you.

When selecting the photographs for the final piece in Country Living, Sarah (the feature writer) immediately knew that she wanted to include this portrait of Tony Hawkins MBE, the retired Dover Coxswain:

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe

Extraordinary is a ubiquitous word these day but I really do mean it when I say that Tony is an extraordinary man.

Click here and scroll down to 1976, from which point you’ll see his name mentioned time and again. He not only received several Framed Letters of Thanks from the Institution but a bronze medal for gallantry too.

Sarah asked for some anecdotes relating to each of the chosen photographs, at which point I recalled a long conversation I recorded with Tony — the last thing I did before heading home from Dover in October 2018.

I dug out the audio recordings from my archive and, as I started listening to them again for the first time in over two years, I was transported right back to my time at the station.

It was incredible to be reminded of his first-hand account of the rescue on 30th March 1985 — leaping into action from the comfort of a hot bath at home to help save hundreds of passengers from the stricken SRN4 hovercraft Princess Margaret.

You can now listen to that conversation at the top of this post and I’ll pop it in the Members’ Area too.


The SRN4s were referred to as the Concorde of the Sea for good reason. If steam locomotives are said to be the closest that humankind has come to building an organic creature, then the SRN4 hovercrafts must surely come a close second.

GH-2006 Princess Margaret was originally built as a Mark I SRN4 in 1968 but was later converted into a Mark III in 1979.

Now, the Mark I was quite a vessel already but the Mark III stretched her to 185ft long, enabling her to carry up to 60 cars and 418 passengers at a speed of 70 knots across the English Channel.

If you don’t know anything about speed at sea, let me tell you that 70 knots is pretty bleedin’ fast!

To put it into context, the Dover Severn class lifeboat is considered ‘fast’ and has a top speed of around 28 knots.

Take a look at this wonderful piece of British Pathé archive footage to see what I mean, which features the maiden voyage of Princess Margaret from Dover to Boulogne in 1968 (and carrying Princess Margaret herself):

So, I’m sure you can begin to imagine the devastation when the unusual — and fatal — disaster occurred in 1985.

Here’s the photograph that Tony and I were looking at in the latter half of the recording, kindly sent to me by one of the current Dover Coxswain/Mechanics, Jon Miell:

Shocking, isn’t it?

It would have been so frightening to witness the events unfolding, whether a passenger or crew member aboard the hovercraft, a volunteer aboard the lifeboat or an onlooker from the shore.

All these years later, I felt privileged to speak to the very man who lead the rescue of so many passengers in such difficult conditions.

A Framed Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman of the Institution was awarded to Coxswain/Assistant Mechanic, Anthony Hawkins, his crew and shore helpers, and to the crews of the motor launches Darg, Denise and of the tug Dextrous, in recognition of the commendable service they gave following the accident to the hovercraft Princess Margaret.


About halfway through the recording, you’ll hear me ask Tony if he was aware that my late mother, Susan, used to serve on the Hoverlloyd SRN4s between Ramsgate and Calais.

Well, I’ve sometimes shared a black and white photograph of her in the past, but I’ve just dug out a colour photograph for you which I haven’t seen for a long time:

I’m guessing it was taken between 1977 and 1979, so she would have been around 19 to 21 years old (she was only 17 when I was born in 1975).

My Mum died from breast cancer in August 2000 at the age of 42, so I’ve now outlived her by 3 years, which is hard to wrap my head around sometimes. This picture lives in the box I keep for posterity containing some of her personal possessions and mementos. It’s quite an emotional journey to rummage through them but I thought it would be a worthy addition to this particular story.

You may have also heard Tony mention the Goodwin Sands? In case you missed it at the time, there’s a members only blog post about that too.

It’s called Welcome to the Goodwin Sands and features this video:

On a final note, Dover will always be a special station for me, not only because they looked after me so well but because it marked the halfway point on the project.

I keep in touch with the crew, particularly Coxswain/Mechanic Jon Miell (mentioned earlier and the chap checking my camera at the start of the video above) who’s become a good friend and patron of The LSP.

When the station’s flags were due for replacement, Jon kindly thought, “I know somebody who might like our old ones!”

Three flags duly arrived a couple of weeks ago, an incredibly moving gesture.

The two pictured below are the RNLI and Cinq Ports flags, which have flown from the masthead of the station’s Severn class lifeboat for the last few years.

The third flag (not pictured) is enormous and flew from the boathouse itself.

All those frayed edges, tassels and knots tell such a story, don’t they? I enjoy thinking about how they will have been present during so many rescues by the Dover lifeboat and her selfless crew.

All the gifts and artefacts I’ve been accruing over the years will surely have to feature in the final exhibition. They’re such a special part of the journey in their own right.

My heartfelt thanks to Jon and everybody at Dover Lifeboat Station, not least the man of the hour, Anthony George Hawkins MBE.


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