1980 – 2017
It is with the most enormous sadness that I have to report the death of my very dear friend and shipmate Neil Thackray at 0800 on Christmas Day. A little more than a year earlier Neil had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. Whilst he bravely underwent surgery to remove what they could, then chemo and radiotherapy, everyone knew that it would kill him sooner rather than later. As it happened he outlived the statistics by some months. Neil was a fighter to the end.
“Geordie Neil, The Lifeboatman” as I often referred to him in my blog, will be very familiar to Mina2 blog-followers. He first burst into our lives in 2005 when, as boyfriend of Selina’s old schoolmate Sarah, he stepped on board Mina2 in Copenhagen as our guest. Although Neil was an RNLI lifeboatman in Cullercoats near Newcastle (respect), he had done little sailing before. That day, Neil’s life changed – and so did ours. He immediately took to sailing with a passion, and we immediately took to Neil. Very quickly he not only became the most competent of crew but much more than that, notwithstanding the generation difference in age, we became the closest of friends. We sailed together everywhere – Neil never stopped learning, and we both never stopped laughing. Neil and I just clicked from the first time we met. Whether it was during a challenging event on board or during one of our not too sober forays ashore together, Neil filled my life with joy.
We crossed the Equator on our Transatlantic passage, with Peter and Venetia, in December 2009, with our theme song Andy Williams “The Impossible Dream” blaring out on the cockpit speakers. I allowed each crew member 10 minutes on the satellite phone to celebrate the moment with a loved one and we were all completely riveted to overhear Neil proposing marriage to Sarah. You could hear Sarah’s shrieks of assent from Hartlepool even without the benefit of the sat phone!
That happy union has resulted in two lovely boys, Ollie and Toby, now aged 5 and 3.
On Thursday, we, along with hundreds of others, said a huge heart-felt goodbye to Neil in Tynemouth. As we walked into the chapel Andy Williams “The Impossible Dream” struck up. That was difficult. Very difficult. The humanist service was spot-on – lots of memories and anecdotes and it included a lovely video tribute, the clips chosen by his two boys.
The reception took place in The View, a large bar restaurant on the beach at Cullercoats just north of Tynemouth. Yes there was sadness and tears but, particularly after we had all got a couple of drinks under our belts, the afternoon turned into a wonderful celebration of Neil’s life. In Selina’s words “we laughed, we cried, we remembered and we celebrated”. Neil would have loved every minute.
And at 1530 round the headland roared the Cullercoats Atlantic Class lifeboat – the lifeboat on which Neil had served for eight years. It swung round in a dramatic turn and held station not far from the beach and The View, where all we mourners were assembled. As one, the lifeboatman took off their helmets and observed a minute’s silence. Helmets on, they waved their tribute to Neil and roared off. There was not a dry eye in the house.