Hugh who? Sidmouth rescuer didn’t clock celebrity chef

HUGH Fearnley-Whittingstall thanked Sidmouth Lifeboat crew and coastguards who raced to his aid when a fishing trip went wrong on Monday.

Hero rescuers said saving the celebrity chef and his 10-year-old son from sharp rocks was all in a day’s work – and didn’t realise who he was until after their mission.

The River Cottage star faced a Fish Fight for survival when his 19ft boat broke down and was washed into a precarious position west of Beer Head.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall dialled 999 at around 3.50pm as the stricken vessel balanced on rocks and began taking on water as it was battered by the surf.

Naomi Firth, 31, one of the five-strong Sidmouth Lifeboat crew despatched to the scene, swam to the chef’s boat and attached a tow rope so the vessel could be winched ashore. She climbed on board and helped Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall and son Oscar bail out water.

“I was oblivious to who we’d rescued until a colleague told me on our way back,” said Naomi.

“I recognised his face but it probably wasn’t the best time to ask for an autograph. It was a case of getting them to safety.

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“We were towed off just in time. I was debating grabbing them and getting off the boat – it was rocking quite a lot. Every time the swell came in, it would lift the boat up and land it in a different position.”

Sidmouth Lifeboat’s Mark Roden added: “The stricken vessel was balanced precariously among rocks, was being buffeted in the surf and was taking on water.

“The condition of the two people aboard was assessed and they appeared to be shaken but uninjured.

“They were wearing appropriate clothing including lifejackets.”

Mr Fearnley –Whittingstall issued a “massive thank-you” to Portland Coastguard and Sidmouth Lifeboat teams.

He said: “We got ourselves into a sticky situation and their response was fantastic.

“It’s great to know that when things go wrong at sea we have a brilliant and dedicated team of men and women standing by to make sure incidents and accidents don’t become disasters.”

Portland Coastguard watch officer Roger Hoare, 65, received the chef’s 999 call.

“I could hear the boat banging among the rocks in the background,” he said.

“I kept him on the phone and reassured him. He was very calm.

“It was only after a while a colleague nudged me and I realised who I was talking to. He rang up to thank us afterwards, which was nice.”

“Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall was a bit embarrassed but these things happen. He had all the right equipment,” said Roger’s brother and Beer Coastguard station officer Terry Hoare.

“There was a bit of damage to the boat’s propeller and rudder.”