Ramsgate RNLI marks the passing of former crewman Ron Blay

Ron Blay

By Karen Cox (Ramsgate RNLI)

The flag is flying half mast at Ramsgate Lifeboat Station to mark the passing of Ronald (Ron) Blay who died at the age of 88.

A familiar face around the Harbour, he was well respected not only for his 33 years with the RNLI but also as the Skipper of the Ramsgate dredger ‘Ramsgate’.

He and his twin brother Bill, who was also RNLI crew, were part of the fishing fleet setting sail from Ramsgate owning first the Welcome Messenger and then the Jonnie S II

Ron joined the RNLI in 1959, a time when the wooden lifeboat was very different to today’s modern lifeboats. When Ron’s first lifeboat, the Watson class Michael and Lily Davis, was built in 1953 it didn’t have a wheel house with the crew mainly exposed to the elements and the kettle was heated on a methylated spirits burner to make a hot drink. Thankfully a wheel house was added in later years.

Radar was first installed in 1963 and it was not until 1970 when very high frequency (VHP) radio-telephony was fitted as standard on lifeboats. The full length yellow oilskins worn by the crew would also be very different from today’s foul weather clothing, with the one piece rubber drysuit not being introduced until 1977.

However, the essential role of a lifeboat crew has not changed, they are there to save lives at sea, and Ron was involved in his share of rescues with Ramsgate’s lifeboat credited with saving over 560 lives in his 33 years with them.

Here are details of just a couple of those rescues that Ron was involved in. The first was the rescue of four crew from the yacht Lungta on the night of 11/12 October 1968 when the boat was grounded on the Ramsgate Harbour bar in very rough seas and a strong south westerly gale. The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was given to the Coxswain Tom Cooper with certificates issued to the crew of the Michael and Lily Davis.

Then on 26 December 1985 Ron was part of the crew that rescued the French fishing vessel Gloire A Marie II aground at the entrance to the River Stour. The crew of the Ralph and Joy Swann, a Waveney lifeboat, towed the boat and her seven crew into deep water during a north easterly hurricane with winds of 128mph. For this rescue the Coxswain Ron Cannon received a Silver medal and the Maud Smith Award for the bravest act of lifesaving in 1985.

Alan Bray,John Cheesman,Nigel Stevens, Jan Leeming (TV presenter) Derick Pegland Ron Cannon, Ray Noble, Mike Petts, Ron Blay, Geof Grieve (Hon sec)

This rescue lead to all the crew being invited to the Savoy Hotel in London to receive an award for Best Lifesaving Feat of the year from Silk Cut cigarettes when famous news presenter Jan Leeming made the presentation.

In January 1990 when Ron was skippering the Dredger he spotted a flotation suit in the water. Upon investigation they discovered an unconscious fisherman who had been in the icy water for two and a half hours so they took him onboard, warmed him up as hypothermia was setting in and brought him back to Ramsgate where he was placed in the care of an ambulance crew. The lifeboat was launched whist Ron took the dredger back out to sea as they had been told that a second fisherman was still in the water. It transpired that the twenty foot fishing boat had capsized when the pair tried to get the anchor in as the boat went stern to the tide and the rope snarled on the propellor. This caused the seawater to flood in, capsizing the boat without any chance to send a Mayday signal.

Sadly the second fisherman was not wearing any floatation equipment and subsequently drowned.

Coxswain Ian Cannon said: “Being part of the RNLI is like being part of large family and the crew of Ramsgate RNLI will miss Ron deeply and send their condolences to his children Iain, Alison and Caron and also to his twin brother Bill.”

2 Comments

  1. What a strange comment given the nature of the article. And there are two Mr. Cannons referenced in the article…

    Ron sounds like a lovely guy who served his community well – condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.

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