A lifeboatman helped rescue 30 rowers after their boats capsized in severe weather during a race on the River Thames.

Martin Blaker, 25, was part of a three-man lifeboat crew who helped after the big boat race ran into difficulties yesterday.

Mr Blaker, of Goodwood Close, Rustington, said: "The weather conditions deteriorated and seven to ten of the boats capsized with about nine people in each.

"It got to the point where the blokes I work with and I ended up pulling them out."

Meanwhile, Mr Blaker's wife Lisa was preparing to meet him and take their four-year-old daughter Jessica to the Brewster's Fayre restaurant in Littlehampton.

He said: "The wife was a bit annoyed because I had to stay at work."

But Mrs Blaker forgave her husband when she heard of his heroism and went ahead with the meal without him.

Mr Blaker, a full-time helmsman in Chiswick, began his career in a safety boat in Worthing after leaving St Andrew's High School in the town.

He then went to the lifeboat station in Littlehampton before taking up a full-time post in London.

A total of 40 people were rescued when the 22nd Vesta International Veterans' Head of River Race hit difficulties yesterday afternoon.

At least two people were taken to hospital, one suffering from severe hypothermia.

The competition, with up to 145 boats, each with eight rowers and a cox, was staged along the traditional Boat Race route between Putney and Mortlake.

The incident followed a day of strong gales, which swept the country and left several people dead.

As winds gusted to more than 60mph on Saturday, a lorry toppled over in Falmer Road, Falmer, coming to rest on a grass verge.

Police said the driver was taken to hospital and treated for minor bruising.

Two friends escaped death by clinging on to a buoy as strong winds drove their dinghy out to sea off Chichester.

The teenagers, aged 17 and 18, were rescued after calling 999 from a mobile phone.

A Solent coastguard spokesman said the boat was stolen, adding: "They had no experience, no lifejackets and no radio."

Firefighters were called as high winds lashed rooftops in Eastbourne, Uckfield and Westham, loosening tiles and breaking up scaffolding.

Forecasters said more bad weather was expected in Sussex this week and warned of hail, thunder and even snow in many areas.