Sunday, 31 December 2006
Little has been happening in my lifeboating world though I did take a short trip down into town to see the progress of the new Whitby Lifeboat house. They are fortunate in that they are getting a new state of the art crew facility which is due for completion in the spring. It looks fantastic and in the meantime it is business as usual for them (though a quiet Christmas thankfully).
Thursday, 28 December 2006
No sooner had Michael Vlasto's message arrived than this arrived from the CEO, Andrew Freemantle, who is no stranger to bravery himself having been mentioned in dispatches whilst employed as one of those soldiers who have their eyes blacked out in photos. So don't upset him!
Yet another good year is almost over. Thanks to your efforts and the generosity of the public, the RNLI is in even better shape. Key projects are moving on at a pace and the performance of our fundraisers remains outstanding.
Thank you all for your contribution to another very successful year.
Have a very happy Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year.
With best wishes,
It's nice to be in so many peoples thoughts though! Perhaps I'll send him a seasonal greeting too and include a link to the Scrapbook. I wonder if he would approve?
This message has just been e-mailed to us from Headquarters. It would seem that we have been busy this year.............
"As we approach the end of what could prove to be our busiest year ever, I would like to thank you all for the vital part you have all played at the sharp end of the RNLI.
Operationally a lot has been achieved and I am grateful to our technical, fundraising, training and service support colleagues for all they do to assist us. However, at the end of the day, it is you at the stations that make it happen by saving lives and rescuing people.
Thank you and my best wishes to you and your families for a happy Christmas and safe lifesaving in 2007."
Michael Vlasto OBE FRIN FNI
Royal National Lifeboat Institution
Tuesday, 26 December 2006
"Just before 3.30 pm yesterday afternoon, Sussex Police contacted the Dover Coastguard Operations Room to alert them to a woman who was on a ledge at Beachy Head cliff near the Lloyds Watch Tower. She appeared to be stuck there.
Eastbourne Coastguard Rescue Team were called out, and began assembling their cliff gear. The Birling Gap Coastguard Rescue Team were also called out, along with the RNLI all weather and in shore lifeboats also from Eastbourne.
When the various units arrived on scene it became clear that there were two people stuck on the ledge and it was then decided that a Coastguard cliff man should be put over the cliff and their intention was to rope each stranded person and lower them to the bottom of the cliff where they could be taken safely ashore by lifeboat.
In the darkness, the individuals fortunately had torches and were able to shine a light towards their rescuers guiding the cliff man towards their position. An ambulance was also called at this time in case either person required medical attention.
The all weather lifeboat provided some lighting for the cliff man and by 5.00 p.m. this afternoon both people had been lowered to the bottom of the cliff and taken ashore to a place of safety.
Peter Legg, Senior Coastguard Watch manager at Dover Coastguard said:
'This is perhaps a slightly more unusual or energetic way to spend Christmas day afternoon than normal but were are very pleased that both people had been rescued safely without mishap and we thank all those in our teams and the RNLI volunteers for leaving their own families and turning out on this festive day. We are still trying to identify why these two people were stuck on this particular ledge, and how they got there in the first place. We are also advising individuals who may be out for a stroll and working off their festive lunches that the tops of cliffs are very slippery at present, and if walking on the beaches and around the base of cliffs then also to check tide times as it is easy to be cut off at this time of year in the gloomy conditions.'"
It pays tribute to the wonderful generosity of volunteers everywhere that these folk are willing to leave their homes and families on Christmas day to help others. So give three cheers and one cheer more!
Boxing day and I find myself sat recovering from Christmas excesses and chatting with my brother-in-law Pete. Pete is an engineer working with Scotrail and living in Troon with his wife Suzi who is expecting their first baby. He has long had a keen interest in the sea and has often been an enthusiastic visitor and supporter of Swanage Lifeboat.
Pete has now decided that he would like to join the crew in Troon and has made his first approach to them. I will update you on this as things happen for him. Good luck Pete......keep it in the family!
Monday, 25 December 2006
It is beginning to look like Swanage lifeboat is going to have a quiet Christmas period. This is not always the case. Several years ago I recall being left in charge of a Goose whilst the remainder of the family left for a mountain bike ride. Not 5 minutes later my pager went off and I spent the next couple of hours in a our old ILB, the 'Phyll Clare', waiting for an unfortunate lady to make up her mind whether to jump or not. Thank goodness a happy outcome, though not for our Goose............
Not everywhere in the RNLI Family is so quiet though. Fowey, Sheerness and Largs to name a few have all launched in the last 24 hours. Largs' shout went like this: At 1334hrs on Christmas Eve the Largs lifeboat launched to a powerboat with machinery failure. With the minimum of fuss the vessel was towed to Largs Yacht Haven. Largs lifeboat crew operate an Atlantic 75 lifeboat, B-739 called Peggy Keith Learmond which was a gift of Mrs Margaret Keith (Peggy) Learmond from Edinburgh. Their new, larger boathouse was built in 1998 for the Atlantic 75 lifeboat and its associated launching vehicle. The official opening of the new boathouse was carried out by HRH The Princess Royal on 3 July 1998.
'It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song
'The Rare Old Mountain Dew'
And I turned my face away
And dreamed about you' (Kirsty MacColl)
Sunday, 24 December 2006
I had hoped by now to bring you a full update on the goings on at the Christmas party (which sadly I had to miss). However, I'm having some difficulty getting information.............By all accounts it was great fun, Becky provided the food which was magnificent and the pirate outfits were creative, if not entirely authentic. No news as yet of which poor unfortunate young master Steeden ended the evening with, no doubt she now regrets it!
Still, it was un-interrupted by shouts. A blessing but also a night of wasted abstenance by 9 of the crew. Their livers will thank them no doubt.
I suspect this will be last post until after Christmas. God bless and have a very Merry Christmas.
Saturday, 23 December 2006
We are particularly avid because as flank station to Weymouth and on Whiskey Bravos patch we occasionally appear as 'guest stars'! I say appear, in all honesty you stand little chance of seeing anything other than one of our elbows or a distant shot of one of our boats........still, it keeps us happy. Have a watch and let me know if you spot us!
'I want a bit part in your life,
A walk-on would be fine.
I just want a bit part in your life,' (The Lemonheads)
You may recall that Steve is our rockhopping expert. He particulary appreciated the chance to get in very close onto the Kimmeridge ledges and discover their true layout. It is little wonder they catch so many people out, very shallow and extending a long way out to sea. Take no risks here.
Thanks to the splendid (or should I say - smashing?!) Mrs Rainsley for providing the taxi ride in such style.
What is between the star and the sea ?
A bird as bright as a bird can be
What is between the bird and me ?
Only a star, only the sea
Only a star, only the sea (The Waterboys)
Thursday, 21 December 2006
The shortest day of the year is a difficult time; but with a serious amount of fog on top it becomes almost unbearable....topped off with a serious head-cold it couldn't get worse. And then there is the cancelled birthday party.
However, life goes on.
Wednesday, 20 December 2006
It is not uncommon to wish to be a part of something. Here you can see a small part of the lifeboat family in Swanage.
Though taken some time ago, this photo clearly shows what is needed, people wise, to help put a lifeboat to sea. From the left can be seen our local coastguard team. In the centre the Chairman of our branch and a number of the guild members. To their right, our ILB crew and on the Mersey our ALB crew. Of course, there is really a much larger team than this when you really delve into the fundraisers and support staff at headquarters, but this gives a flavour.
What does all this add up to? Well, a real sense for the crew, that when they are at sea, they are not on their own...........
Tuesday, 19 December 2006
Monday, 18 December 2006
Sunday, 17 December 2006
The ALB was busy with various manoeuvres while the ILB indulged in a spot of 'Rockhopping'. Tremendous fun though this is, the intention is not merely to provide entertainment for our crew. The ILB is the perfect rescue craft for getting in close to the shore and cliff. To be able to do this safely the crew must know with certainty exactly what lies beneath the surface. The only way to train new crew in this is for an old hand to work each new crewmember up and pass on their knowledge by thoroughly exploring the shoreline. Steve Williams, our ILB senior Helmsman is passionate about this. Without doubt he is our rockhopping guru! (if you ask him nicely he may even tell you where all of the best caves are......)
Keith Pugh, Deputy Headteacher of our local Middle School, will retire this Christmas after many years teaching Swanage children. Included in these are a large proportion of our crewmembers. We thought it would be only fitting to mark his retirement with a trip down the slipway on a lifeboat crewed by old pupils. The real pleasure for me was observing Keith's amazement that so many complete reprobates should turn out to be such stalwart members of our community. I like to think that we may have restored Keith's faith in the value of his calling. The hard work was not all wasted.
I think he may also have been impressed with their mastery of a second language........Anglo-Saxon!
Friday, 15 December 2006
Thursday, 14 December 2006
Fresh back from lifeboat college in Poole are Jo Bowry, Becky Mack, Anthony Corben and James Chadwick. They have, for the past 3 days, been attending the Sea Survival, Fire Fighting and basic First Aid course. I have recently taken on this challenge and found it to be not only enormously fun, but also tremendously challenging. Perhaps the pinnacle of the course is the sea survival exercise in the 'Environmental Pool' There is no getting away from the fact that this is a deeply unpleasant experience which rams home the scary reality of exactly what it would be like to be a survivor in a liferaft. The pool can recreate Force 7 wind conditions, 2 metre seas, thunder, lightening and rain!
Perhaps the biggest lesson? Always step up into a liferaft.......it's a place you don't want to be unless there realy are no other options left.
Wednesday, 13 December 2006
Roger is without doubt one of lifes consumate gentlemen. He does all this and asks for nothing in return other than a steady supply of fine coffee. A good man.........
Lifeboat 12-23, the 23rd mersey, also known as the 'Robert Charles Brown'. She arrived on station in 1992, cost roughly £750,000 to build, is 37 feet long, made of GRP and is named after a previous Coxswain of Swanage Lifeboat.
Robert Charles Brown was certainly a man to remember. He was a lifeboatman for over 50 years, he sailed and rowed lifeboats as well as motored in them and in 1934, as Assistant Motor Mechanic, was awarded the institutions Bronze medal for his part in a rescue on the 19th March 1934. Going to the assistance of the yacht Hally Lise he spotted a crewman in the water. The man was unconcious. Without hesitation, and still wearing his oilskins, lifebelt and seaboots, he jumped overboard and swam to the drowning man. He then supported them both until the lifeboat was able to turn and pick them out of the water. Robert Charles Brown was later awarded the British Empire Medal for service to the RNLI.
Following in this inspiring man's footsteps is lifeboat 12-23 and her crew. After 14 years on station she has launched nearly 500 hundred times on service and saved more than 90 lives. It would be nice to think that we are doing Robert Charles Brown BEM proud.
Tuesday, 12 December 2006
Close co-operation between the Coastguard and ourselves is a regular theme in posts here. And rightly so. They task us and feed us a constant supply of information to enable us to complete each shout. Never is this close relationship more apparent than when we work with 'Whiskey Bravo' the rescue helicopter for our patch which is based in Portland (Dorset not Oregon).
On a personal level, I rarely take a great thrill at being clenched between another chaps thighs. However, on the occasion this photo was taken I made an exception to that rule. I think you can see why!
Two things stand like stone;
Kindness in another’s trouble
Courage in your own.
(Adam Lindsay Gordon)
In the winter months shouts are rare but tend to be more challenging when they arrive. During the spring and summer shouts are far more frequent but often, on the face of it, less significant.
It would be easy to fall into the trap of writing these shouts off as mere ‘AA’ jobs which we shouldn’t really be bothered with or that people should be charged for. Many is the time that a bystander has sneered as we come ashore and assumed that we must feel that it is a waste of our time to tow in speed boats that have run out of fuel.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. We would far rather tow someone in whilst their difficulty is relatively trifling, than wait until their difficulty has escalated into a more serious incident. Thankfully this is also the view of the Coastguard, who call upon our services before problems have become profound. In this way we tow in more broken down boats, than boats which have broken down, been adrift for 3 hours, been run down as it has got dark and then lost all of its occupants overboard. In other words, get there early before the problem grows.
This is not to say that people’s difficulties are not caused by stupidity or lack of planning. They frequently are. We believe that it is every bit as important to save others from their stupidity as from the elements. We volunteer solely to save life at sea, not to judge others for their mistakes.
Monday, 11 December 2006
Each Monday morning at 10am, Dave, our mechanic, sends out a routine pager message to all the crew giving an update on the week ahead. In time one learns the subtle difference between the tone of this and a launch request and so avoid behaving like a headless chicken every Monday morning at 10.
Typically the message will let the crew know who will be that weeks duty ILB helmsman and when the next exercise will be. Kev Dimarco has the honour of duty helm this week and will run the next exercise on Sunday 17th at 10am. Kev is one of our most experienced ILB crew and by day fits TV aerials around the town. One of the truly committed.
Night and day. in every kind of weather, they are ready to go to the rescue of those in 'peril on the sea'.
By far the majority of lifeboat launches are initiated by the coastguard. Upon the receipt of a 999 call they decide on what action is needed and may decide that a lifeboat is required. They consider the type of casualty, it’s geographical location and only then contact a lifeboat station and request a launch.
Each lifeboat station will have a ‘Lifeboat Operations Manager’ (known as LOM or more often, God!) who is ultimately responsible for all of the operations at the station. It is he, or in his absence, his ‘Deputy Launching Authority’ (DLA), who will initially be contacted by the Coastguard. They will discuss the situation and only upon the LOM or DLAs say so will the crew be called. In this way the LOM or DLA acts as a filter between the Coastguard and the crew, this has in the past prevented Coxswains from launching out of bravado into situations which could have meant grave danger or even certain death for their crew and boat.
Traditionally, lifeboat crews were summoned by the twin explosions of ‘Maroons’, warning flares with a loud bang. At their urgent boom men would emerge from houses in various states of undress and hurry to the boathouse. Times change and technology presents different options. Crews are now summoned by the insistent buzz of a pager strapped to their hip or laid on the bedside table. The effect is the same. The urgency is palpable as the crew tumble through the boathouse door with shouts of, ‘which boat?’, ‘where are we going?’, ‘what is it?’ and then quiet as the pin is knocked out and the boat is away into the darkness. From 999 to the boat hitting the water in under 10 minutes. Not bad for a bunch of volunteers?
Saturday, 9 December 2006
Lifeboats operate within roughly defined areas, known as patches. The Lifeboat Stations to either side of a patch are known as 'Flank' stations, ours are Weymouth to the west and Poole and to some extent Mudeford in the East.
Looking to the West, the boundary of our patch is somewhere near Kimmeridge. This is the point where Weymouth's Severn and our Mersey class lifeboats would meet if we set off from our stations at the same time; their patch is slightly larger than ours as they have a faster boat.
As lifeboats are normally tasked by the Coastguard, it is of absolute importance that they understand the capabilities of all of the crews and lifeboats within their area. For example, in a complex search involving several boats it would not be uncommon for us to be tasked to conduct the close inshore search (as we have a shallower draft) and for Weymouth's Severn to be tasked further off shore as they have more height from which to search.
Teamwork is crucial. Each boat in it's patch links with the next and together, form an unbroken chain around our charmed Isle.
Friday, 8 December 2006
In days gone past it was common for lifeboats to be crewed by many members of the same family, frequently as many as three generations of the same family. Thankfully here at Swanage we have steered away from this sort of inbred nepotism.
Or perhaps that is not the truth in it's entirety?
We do have our own version of a classic lifeboat clan..........the Steedens. Martin Steeden, our Coxswain, is the Patriarch of this family and has been the guiding light of our crew for 6 years. His eldest son Gavin is a helmsman on our ILB, the 'Jack Cleare'. Matt, the baby of the family is also a crewmember. Not forgetting James Chadwick (Chad), cousin to Matt and Gav, who has joined the crew and is serving his time as a probationer. So in a way I guess we do have our very own 'lifeboat family'! And in a way it makes sense, for them it is more than just a calling, it's in the blood and for that we thank them.
To get down to business-I'd just like to state
The wind's hard a beam and rising force eight.
Don't tell me-I know it-you've just run aground,
And aren't you lucky to have me around!
Not surprisingly, the majority of our crew are male, however, we are very lucky to have two ‘probationary’ female crewmembers. Although they lack the strength of some of their male counterparts, they more than make up for this with finesse, tact and intellect, all worthy attributes. I have previously mentioned Jo Bowry, Local government Tourism Officer, superior dinner party hostess and fine addition to the station. Our other lady is Becky Mack, sister to James. By day Becky graces the counter of our local HSBC, she has also recently completed her training as an equine chiropractor?! Further she moonlights as a caterer for parties and still finds time to be our press officer………….clearly someone whose world is spinning faster than most.
Incidentally I ought to mention that Becky was a runner up in the RNLI photographic competition with her entry in the ‘best photo of an ALB’ category. She will get a lovely certificate in due course; I may let her use my new Pentax camera.
Thursday, 7 December 2006
Each lifeboat station has it's own boat. Becomes attached, cherishes and feels comfortable with her. Never-the-less, due to the nature of the job and the high standards expected of the equipment, there are many occasions when a station will be using a boat other than it's own. These are known in RNLI language as 'Relief Boats'. They are strategically placed around the coast, ready to be shunted to the front line when needed.
Presently we have a relief boat. We didn't break the 'Robert Charles Brown'...........just wore her out. After many thousands of launches down the slipway the keel had become distorted, bent and worn. We noticed this during the summer when launching for our annual church service. We knocked out the pin to launch, she slid as ever down the slip and nearing the bottom ground to a rather undignified hault. Not what is needed when being whatched by so many. After a visit from the technical department; much stroking of chins and sucking of teeth, the dear old 'Robert Charles Brown' was deemed to be, quite simply worn out.
She is now in Cowes, IOW, having a new keel mated to her and at the same time having a full overhaul. This will take some length of time and in the meantime we operate a relief boat and notice the small but important differences in her character.
Getting the balance of the crew of a lifeboat right can be tricky. Wisdom is good but one can have too many Gandalfs. Youth adds vigour but sometimes lacks judgement. There being little work in Swanage we find it hard to find crew who are available during the day; consequently we snap up anyone who is basically mobile and can get to the boathouse at a moments notice during a weekday.
Seldom does a new volunteer have any nautical experience, though that is no problem, we have an extended induction period and the lifeboat college does a fantastic job of training volunteers in the ways of the sea.
Once approached by a new volunteer we ask them to spend 3 months visiting the station on a regular basis, attend exercises and generally get to know the crew. At the end of this period there will be a crew meeting without them present and the crew will vote whether to accept them onto the crew as a ‘shore helper’. Most often this happens without a glitch and they then get a pager and spend 3 months getting a more hands-on feel for what goes on by helping on the slipway and in the boathouse. The very lucky also get a trip out on the boat at this stage. A further 3 months pass and after another ‘crew meeting’ they would hopefully be accepted as a ‘probationer’. At this point they will begin training on the boat in earnest and will be treated as a full crew member (albeit sent on regular errands for sky-hooks, long waits and tartan paint)!
Congratulations to Nick Webb who was voted on as a probationer last night. Nick is available during the day for service as he works as a youth worker for the local Anglican churches (therefore does basically nothing but is in cose contact with the big man upstairs).
Well done……as I write he awaits his first Shout.
Wednesday, 6 December 2006
For every time we launch on a 'Shout' we will have launched another time on an exercise. Each crewmember (and we have 25 in total) is expected to turn up at least twice a month. We train every 3rd Wednesday evening and every 3rd Sunday morning. Night-time exercises are always particularly fun; an extra dimension of reality is added purely by the unknowns which darkness bring.
Tonight we took both boats to sea, each with a mixture of experienced crew and newcomers. We 'doubled up' on each position and hopefully achieved much. For my part I spent the evening with Tom (charter boat owner and racoteur of filthy stories) As an experienced seaman he is a rarity these days. He has the most precious gift of any navigator..............local knowledge, he knows the local tides like you might know the walk down your drive. However, he is nervous with electronics so we spent the evening creating search patterns with our chartplotter. He was a very willing student and towards the end of the exercise had become thoroughly competent. A success.
After re-housing a short meeting of all the crew then to the 'East Bar' for a dram before home.
Often observers comment on the bravery and courage needed to work as a member of a lifeboat crew. Most crewmembers would scowl and look away at the very mention. And that is the awkward part.....those who have it or display it commonly deny it. It is not courage, merely doing what seems right and necessary in the circumstances.
However, looking beyond the individual, the lifeboat service does have a rich tradition of courage, this can be seen in the vast number of stories of lifeboats lost and lives saved at sea. Uniquely this leads to something special within the RNLI as a charity; those who give money generally do so because they wish to assist those doing the lifesaving, rather than those in peril on the sea......
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we'll not fail.
Tuesday, 5 December 2006
It's rare to be reminded of past rescues and seldom does good come from bad, however, this morning both happened! Out of the blue a small missive from RNLI HQ appeared in my inbox. As a result of a photo taken on a shout in May I have won an RNLI photographic competition and the prize is a Pentax camera.........I think more for the publicity that the photo and story got in the national press than for the actual photo?
The story went like this and lasted but an hour:
At 8.01 on the first of May Portland Coastguard paged for an immediate launch of both the Swanage Lifeboats following a 'Mayday' call from the yacht 'Wellworthy'. The call had been picked up by both Portland and Solent Coastguard but there was no further information as to the nature of the distress. Luckily the 'Condor Vitesse' was in the area and they were able to confirm that a yacht had gone on to the rocks under Anvil Point. Both Swanage Lifeboats launched with the faster Inshore Lifeboat (ILB) arriving first. They found the badly damaged yacht being repeatedly pounded against the rocks, luckily the skipper and his crew had managed to scramble ashore. The ILB anchored and veered in to try and recover the casualties. After a number of attempts the skipper managed to jump into the lifeboat leaving his crew ashore as she was not confident enough to make the jump. With the Coastguard helicopter only 5 minutes away crewman John Deas was put ashore to sit with the casualty to comfort her until they could be lifted off. In the mean time the skipper was put aboard the All Weather Lifeboat (ALB) and treated for shock. Once the helicopter had completed its lift all units returned to Swanage. The skipper was landed at Swanage Pier where he was taken to Swanage Hospital for a check over. The lifeboat was recovered at 8.45.
Not uncommonly at this time of year the weather becomes foul and tempestuous. After a week of heavy weather (often described as 'Lifeboat Weather') a hefty ground swell is beginning to roll into Swanage Bay. Indeed the breakfast time darkness pulled back gradually to reveal a small merchant man seeking what shelter is afforded by the bay. The radio pitched it's gloomy forcast:
Selsey Bill to Lyme Regis
Issued by the Met Office at 0500 UTC on Tuesday 05 December 2006.
24 hour forecast:
Wind: southwest veering west 6 to gale 8, occasionally severe gale 9.
Weather: rain then showers.
Visibility: moderate or good.
Sea State: rough or very rough. Issued by the Met Office at 0500 UTC on Tuesday 05 December 2006.
Lifeboat weather indeed...............
Monday, 4 December 2006
Invited by the wonderful Miss Bowry to sample her fine cuisine how could we refuse. Fine company in the form of young Masters Steeden, Greesty, and Clark, not forgeting Miss Mack and the fabulous Clare......The food and wine certainly didn't disappoint and neither did the company. Mr Greesty entertained us all with his usual collection of charming and witty stories.....
Working as hard as ever Mr Turnbull, lifeboat mechanic extraordinaire has completed repairs to the ILB's battery and charging system.
The new generation 'D' class called IB1has an electric start on the engine and a chart plotter which all makes for extra demand on the battery system, making it ever more important that it is kept fully topped up both whilst ashore and while at sea.