Saturday, 31 March 2007

Why does it always rain on me?

It's holiday time. I'm a teacher you see, so every couple of weeks I get a couple of weeks off. Mostly holidays seem to begin with rain, grey skies and a cold. This one is not disappointing so far. My plan is to spend some time north of the border visiting relatives and mountain-biking. Naturally this will be the cue for a spate of shouts. I will continue to blog as often as possible. I have quite a backlog of things to talk about and photos so I will see what I can get through.

I've added a few links on the Other Links section to the right (scroll down a bit), these are links to a site which provides real time met, tide and wave data for Swanage pier.....great stuff, have a play.

Talking of weather we've had a few weeks of quite incredible weather, real beach and shorts stuff. But of course in Britain this kind of thing never lasts long. The forecast this morning was typical start of the holidays stuff:

Selsey Bill to Lyme Regis

Issued by the Met Office at 0600 UTC on Saturday 31 March 2007

24 hour forecast:

Wind - Northeast 5 or 6, occasionally 7.
Weather - Fair.
Visibility - Moderate or good, occasionally poor at first.
Sea State - Slight becoming moderate.

Outlook for the following 24 hours:

Wind - Northeasterly 5 or 6, decreasing 4 or 5.
Weather - Showers.
Visibility - Moderate or good.
Sea State - Moderate

And the nowcast? Well, just like the above but with rain thrown in for good measure. Happy holidays!

Friday, 30 March 2007

Robert Charles Brown Pass out

Simon Pryce (Divisional Inspector/South) begins his inspection at the sharp end.Richard Morris (RNLI Tech Surveyor) and Paul Spear (Deputy Divisional Engineer/South) discuss technical matters.Simon Pryce inspects the salvage pump.David Steele (RNLI Tech Surveyor) and Paul Spear check the port side fire main.Robert Charles Brown back alongside ready to be lifted from the water.Robert Charles Brown back in the hoist ready to go back into the yard for remedial work to be carried out.

Here's Dave's report on the day:

Myself, Simon Pryce & Paul Speare headed across to South Boats (Cowes, IOW) to meet staff from the yard & the 2 RNLI Tech Surveyors, Richard Morris (Hull) & Dave Steel (Machinery). The day went kinda like this

10:30 - Arrived at South Boats, tea & biscuits and a short chat about timings and what had been done on the boat.

11:00 - Taken to the boat so that we could have a look over her and list any problems that we found. This included mustering kit, checking things that I'd found on the last snagging trip & looking for bits that had been missed.

13:00 - Lunch

13:30 - Took the boat to sea to check the engines, electronics, pumps etc

15:20 - Back alongside

15:30 - Tea & debrief, snagging list completed and signed off.

16:15 - Back on the Red Jet back to Southampton.

There was very little wrong with the boat, most of the niggles that I'd found on the last visit had been sorted although I still wasn't happy with the USP throttle controls. Simon & Paul found a few other bits & bobs but nothing serious. The unfortunate thing was that the yard had managed to scratch the blue paint on the port side (only slightly) a few days before our arrival. They'd done it putting the boat alongside a pontoon and to say that they were a little annoyed is a bit of an understatement! They had touched the scratch up but Richard & Simon weren't happy. This meant that she was lifted out of the water & the whole of the port side will have to be resprayed. We are now aiming to pick her up the Tues/Weds after Easter (hopefully!)

Think that about covers it.



Thanks to Dave Turnbull for the photos.


Each lifeboat station has a Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM). Until recently they were referred to as the Honorary Secretary (Hon Sec for short) but far more commonly by the crew they are both referred to and treated as God. You see they call the shots, not on the boat which is the Coxswain's domain, but ashore and in the boathouse. They quite simply must be obeyed and deferred to.

Ours is Captain Neil Hardy. He is a man who commands respect; Falklands veteran, Master Mariner, Ferry Captain, greying, old and resident in Worth Matravers. By the younger crew he is feared, by the elder crew respected. And with good reason. He runs the show and is unafraid of tough decisions. Tow the line and he will grease the cogs of your lifeboating life. Mess up more than once and you have a problem........a God shaped problem.

Thursday, 29 March 2007


This afternoon at 4.30 we launched with a very sad task to perform. Sally Wood, wife of our Parish Priest John Wood, recently lost her battle with cancer. John asked us if we could help him carry out Sally's wish to have her ashes scattered in Swanage bay. Naturally we were happy to help, indeed we were honoured to be asked.

Although cold, the weather was bright with a brisk South Westerly blowing. We steamed slowly into the middle of the bay and then stopped for some time. It was a sad occasion but somehow it was also a pleasure to be there, doing something that we knew was Sally's wish. We pray that John and Jennie come to terms with their loss and cope in their grief. We are glad that in our limited way we might have helped.

We band of brothers.

Yesterday evening was the first 'dry' exercise that I have taken. The idea is that though most of the training we do necessarily happens at sea, some can be better achieved ashore in the boathouse. Becky, Nick and mark are all newish crew members, along with Tom we went over responsibilities for keeping watch at sea and how to properly use the watchkeeping equipment (Binos, night-sight, search lights, compass and radar). Obviously this was all broad brush stuff but sometimes even the obvious needs to be pointed out. We then did some dry runs through on how to rig up tows and how to deploy and recover the anchor. After a bit of practise throwing the heaving lines (Becky, she who makes everything look effortless, was scarily accurate) it was time to repair to the pub for a de-brief.

And that's the funny thing. There we were, a dozen or so young fit friends in our usual pub, the England football match was on, so what did we do? Naturally we left and went to another pub. One without a telly so we could chat about the important things in life (like boats, holidays, mountainbiking and having fun). We all agreed, life should be spent living not watching football on tv. And gradually we all sloped of home leaving just a hard core, Jon, Steve, myself and the awesome Becky. Happy to chat and plan the summer ahead.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother;

(William Shakespeare)

Wednesday, 28 March 2007


Lifeboat shouts rarely happen at convenient times. That's the nature of the job. Monday's shout was during my tea time. Now I wouldn't normally mind but on this occasion I was just tucking into the innards of a fine 4 1/2 lb brown crab freshly plucked from the deep by Geoff Marsh andTom. I think you'll agree, he was a beauty!

Talking of which, it would appear that Tom has an admirer. Apparently he is 'cute', not sure that I would agree but then I am neither female nor American (I suspect they may have a slightly more exotic taste in man)?! My advice to the delightful if ever so slightly deranged Megan? Reserve judgement 'till you've smelt him!

It had to be you.......

Martin as you know is our Coxswain. Rob is our principle Second Coxswain, Martin's right hand man if you like. In their absence it falls to Dave (Mechanic)and I to take the boat to sea. On Monday night Martin was out walking his dogs and Rob was out of town so Dave acted as Coxswain and I as his second Cox.

The majority of the responsibility is fairly easy to deal with. However, without doubt, the hardest part is picking which crew are going to fill the vacant spaces on the boat. On Monday night with Martin and Rob away we had 3 gaps and Dave (he was pretending to be busy with the engines) asked me to pick from the assembled crew at the bottom of the stairs. Now I made the fatal error of looking at them.........8 pairs of puppy dog eyes staring up at me, each set pleading 'pick me, pick me'! In a flash I realised that this is an almost impossible decision to make. In the end I made the choice of a mix of experience (Ron) and youth (Matt). The others unfortunately had to be content to work on the slipway and do whatever needed doing in the boathouse. Thankless but necessary.

Of our casualty nothing has yet been heard. No reports have come back to us of her being found but equally no reports have been received of any missing persons. Our thoughts remain with her and we pray that this will have a happy outcome.

It had to be you
It had to be you
I wandered around and finally found
The somebody who

(Gus Kahn and Isham Jones)

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Missing person

Last nights shout was in many ways a 'classic' missing persons shout. Details were sketchy leaving us no option but to cover all the bases.

Shortly after launching both boats conducted a close inshore search from Peveril Point to Durslston Head. Nothing found. We then repeated this with a much slower and closer return trip. Again nothing found. We then returned along the same route but stopping periodically to fire parachute flares in the hope that this would illuminate further into the crevasses between rocks. This worked but yielded no result. This kind of search is tiring and tricky as pretty much every shadow becomes a potential casualty and each washed up lobster pot takes on a human form.

By the time we had completed this pass we had just about come to the conclusion that the missing person was not in this area. Then the eagle eyed Kev (who had gone ashore from the ILB) found a fairly large amount of wet blood on the rocks. This suggested that someone had fallen over the cliff and sustained injuries. Definitely a case of information which widens the pool of uncertainties rather than narrowing things down. It was beginning to look like we would be there a while. The Police were called at this point and Portland were asked to request the launch of the Solent Coastguard Helicopter (India Juliet) which was at immediate readiness. At this point there were perhaps 20 lifeboat crew, 10 Coastguards, 3 police and now the 4 man crew of IJ involved.

Unfortunately IJ was diverted whilst en-route to attend another incident so we returned to our slipway to await their arrival. At this point we had little hope of finding a casualty alive but there remained a faint chance that IJ's FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) camera could spot their body warmth either in amongst the rocks or in the sea. Sadly this was not the case. At this point the Coastguard ops room team have to make a judgement call about whether in their opinion the search has given a near 100% chance of finding what was there. On this occasion they felt that the search had been thorough and comprehensive and therefor that whatever had been there wasn't anymore.

These kind of outcomes are pretty hard to deal with. We know from the evidence that there was a person there and that they were hurt and hurt badly enough to need help. We also know that on this occasion we couldn't help them. This doesn't sit comfortably. Typically we will hear no more about this. Another un-resolved incident to add to the list.

Hopefully our casualty is well and being cared for somewhere. Our thoughts are with her...............

Monday, 26 March 2007

Launch both boats

At 8.36pm Portland Coastguard paged our DLA Russ requesting that he launch both boats to assist in a search in Durlston bay looking for a lady who had been acting in a confused and strange way. 8 minutes later the ALB launched. Sadly nothing was found with the exception of some blood below the cliffs on the shoreline. Nothing more is known of the woman at this point. I will bring you the full story in the morning once I have had some sleep.

He ain't heavy - He's your brother

We are a close bunch as a crew. It's hard to know if this is normal, but for us it is and we like it this way. Becky graduated this weekend so Jo, Tom and Matt baked her a cake to help her celebrate. Oli and Jo went for a bike ride together. Nick helped me dig over my vegetable patch. Jo then came to ours for dinner. Most of the crew went out on Saturday night. All very sociable. And we like it like this. I also think it helps us to be an effective crew, more understanding of each others strengths and weaknesses. Heartwarming stuff hey?!

The usual 10 o'clock Monday page has just arrived. ILB helm this week is Steve. There is a dry exercise this week on Wednesday in the boathouse. The ILB should go to sea but the ALB will be ashore and I will be doing some shore based training with crew. The plan for this is to run through the COLREGS, lights/sounds/signals and keeping a watch. Fun stuff!?

So on we go
His welfare is my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

(B. Scott and B. Russell)

Friday, 23 March 2007


A lifeboat is a very personal thing. Like a person they have character, foibles and whimsical ways. For some time now we have had a relief lifeboat. On paper no less capable than the Robert Charles Brown, in practise like a pair of shoes worn in by someone else; the throttles stick, guard rails are too tight, searchlights too loose, stowages in different places, she’s more sluggish, possibly slower and altogether less ‘ours’.

Delighted we are then that the time is approaching for the Robert Charles Brown to return. Yesterday Dave travelled to Cowes, IOW, for her first post-refit sea trials. By all accounts they went well. It can certainly not be denied that she looks the business. The process now is that any identified defects will be put right prior to her final acceptance trial. Once this is over, providing she is accepted, she will make the passage back to Swanage to take over from the relief boat.

For us this passage and changeover is a simple affair, a drive to Poole, train to Southampton, ferry to Cowes and then drive her home. Spare a thought for stations which are further from their refit facilities. For them the passage can take some days to complete. These passages are the stuff of legend and almost always pass into the annals of station history, “do you remember that time in Fowey when……………” I’m sure you can fill in the spaces!

So for the next few weeks we will gradually re-acquaint ourselves with our station boat. An old friend to be appreciated and admired, enjoyed and respected for her particular, unique qualities. A veritable springtime in our lifeboating year.

Here's Dave's report on his day yesterday:

Morning . .

1. Only I went.
2. Not bad, it was the first of the 4 hour snagging trials and the first time the engines had been run at full throttle since they were put back in the boat. There's still a lot of cleaning to do and about 4 x A4 pages of snagging, that's normal apparently. She seemed to run well although none of the VHFs would work, except the handheld! There was a small oil leak on the port engine but they sorted that at sea.
3. Passout is scheduled for 29th March when the DI, DDE & I will go over and go right through everything. If all goes well I'd like to get her on Mon or Tues 2/3 April so we can do some slip trials in the afternoon at low water.
4. Only new (different) thing is mod to pyrogen system to match what we've got on the relief boat.
5. She's had a full repaint, some FRC repairs, a new radar mast (old one was bent), engine's rebuilt and their power increased to 320Hp, 3 new keels the list goes on!
6. Yes she's in Cowes.
7. There's another 4 hour trial today to get some more hours on the boat.

Think that covers it

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Will your anchor hold?

Last nights exercise was, for my crew, a chance to practise the evolutions learnt last Sunday in the dark. Darkness has a way of making previously simple and instinctive tasks seem somehow awkward and foreign. That said the crew coped very well, the anchor was set, the salvage pump was rigged and run and a man-over-board was recovered. All very satisfactory!

The highlight for me was spending some time with the superb Jo Bowry delving into her knowledge of where items are stowed on the boat. This is, in a way, basic stuff. But it is also ever so easy to forget. It turns out that Jo is a walking encyclopedia of lifeboat stowage arrangements..........there is nothing she could not put her hands on if you were to ask politely enough! A good student backed up by a good brain.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?

(Priscilla J Owens)

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Vernal Equinox

Yesterday it looked rather like someone had pulled the plug on Swanage bay. This was because of the huge range of the spring tides due to the Vernal Equinox. Also known as the Spring Equinox this is when day and night are of equal duration. The two yearly equinoxes occur when the Sun crosses the celestial equator. The vernal (spring) equinox occurs on March 21; the autumnal equinox occurs on September 21.

On days like this launching can be a real problem. At low tide we can very literally run out of slipway. The boat does not slide very well on the concrete toe as you can imagine. Luckily the boat will generally have enough momentum at this point to carry it over. However, yesterday there was a very strong Northerly wind which actually could have slowed the boat down enough for it not to make it. How embarrassing would that be?!

Thanks to the ever hard working Dave for the photo....

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

School of hard knocks

In these days of enlightened equality upon lifeboats it is not uncommon to spot members of the fairer sex onboard one of the institutions rescue craft. Indeed 8% of lifeboat crews nationally are female according to recent figures. One consequence of this has been a softening of the image of lifeboat crewmembers. No longer are we all hairy old sea dogs who look like we have weathered more than our fair share of life's storms.

Of course there are exceptions. Ron is ours. He will never disappoint anyone who is seeking a traditionally appointed lifeboatman. No doubt, he has weathered a few storms, been round the block a few times, been trained at the school of hard knocks and had a tough paper round to boot.

Ron, our very own salty old sea dog!

When a man grows old and his balls grow cold
And the end of his p***k turns blue
And he's bent in the middle like a one string fiddle
He can tell you a tale or two.

When a man grows old and his balls grow cold
And the end of his p***k turns blue
And the hole in the middle refuses to piddle
I'd say he's f****d wouldn't you?

(The Ballad of Eskimo Nell)

Monday, 19 March 2007


It has been said before that the RNLI is a 'rich' charity.

In a sense this is true. At the turn of the century it had more than £250m invested and a further £150m in assets making it the 13th richest charity based on funds. This worries some people. It suggests that the charity no longer needs financial support. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The £150m in assets is tied up in a lot of property (boathouses, lifeboats and training facilities) which are all essential but are not assets which could be used to fund the work of lifesaving. As for the £250m invested, this is less that 18 months operating funds which sounds a lot but is in fact half of what is allowed by the Charity Commission.

During the 70's the charity fell on hard times. For some reason charitable giving had not kept pace with inflation and rising operating costs, as a result the Institution was almost bankrupt and was facing a situation where it was considering plans to close stations and cut back on services. Not surprisingly the Directors for the RNLI now understands the vital importance of holding reserves as a safeguard against a similar situation in future.

Indeed it is the reserves which give the Institution the security to plan for the future. In the time in which I have been on the crew I have seen this planning lead to two new classes of lifeboats being designed and built and money invested in vastly superior crew training facilities. This gives me confidence as a crewman that we will continue to have the very best of kit and be backed up with a professional and expert support structure.

The RNLI is not rich, it is solvent and necessarily so. Please keep giving.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Measured mile

I have mentioned before that our patch is littered with ready reference points which we use when communicating with the Coastguard. It makes sense to make reference to a headland or bay rather than passing a lat and long sometimes. One of the more prominent features on any coastline must always be its lighthouses. Ours is a beauty and is an important reference point for us.

Just to the east of the lighthouse stand erect two metal posts. Exactly one nautical mile to the west lie another pair. Together these two pairs of posts are used from the sea by the Navy and indeed anyone else wishing to calibrate instruments. From having one pair exactly in transit to having the next pair exactly in transit is one nautical mile, 1852 metres or one minute (1/60th of a degree) of longitude. Handy if you know what they are!

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Paddling my backyard

Along with many others I had plans for some recreation this weekend. And great it was too. The plan was to paddle from Weymouth to Lulworth with Mark R, take some photos and play around as close inshore as possible. We achieved all this and it was glorious to be in amongst the rocks, seaweed and waves on such a fine day. Luckily we had no mishaps and arrived in Lulworth under blue skies, ready for tea and cake.

The color of the sky as far as I can see is coal grey.
Lift my head from the pillow and then fall again.
With a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather.
A quiver in my lips as if I might cry.
Well by the force of will my lungs are filled and so I breathe.
Lately it seems this big bed is where I never leave.
Shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather.
Quiver in my voice as I cry,
"What a cold and rainy day. Where on earth is the sun hid away."
(10,000 Maniacs)

Friday, 16 March 2007

Silly season?

In a way the weather has been unseasonably good. This often leads to a dramatic increase in the number of shouts we are called on (we could hardly be quieter!) We often refer to this as the 'Silly Season' for a number of reasons: there seems to be more silly people around doing silly things in silly craft, and also our workload can get a bit silly.

The story often goes a bit like this: Dennis arrives in boatpark with crappy car, crappy boat and crappy engine. At the twentieth attempt Dennis manages to reverse said ensemble into the sea. He then spends at least half an hour trying to start the engine, this usually involves taking it to pieces. The minute the engine starts Dennis heads straight out to sea in a cloud of smoke with no lifejackets, little fuel and his entire extended family. Half an hour later our pagers go off.......! (This is an entirely true story but to save humiliating people some of the names, details and events have been changed).

Thankfully the RNLI has chosen to be pro-active in halting this sort of nonsense with their superb sea-safety campaign. I wish them every success.

Counter Intuition

I have heard it said that one should never trust an estate-agent. May I suggest that you might want to reconsider this advice if he happened to be the only thing standing between you and aquatic safety?

Anthony is the latest in a line of Corbens who have been both Lifeboatmen and, that rarest of rare, honourable and trustworthy estate-agents.

You may wish to spare a thought for Anthony's old man, Dave. He has recently emerged from a hospital visit where he had one of his major internal organs fiddled with (and who says estate-agents have no heart?) Get well soon Dave.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Lifeboat photography

One happy spin off of blogging has been a re-awakened interest in photography. I have begun to take a real pleasure in getting the right perspective, cropping and looking for the new angle.

I have discovered that taking photos is essentially impossible on the boat at night and almost guaranteed to produce appalling results. I have also discovered that it is almost impossible to take a bad photo of a lifeboat by day. Something to do with the jolly colour scheme perhaps? In any case. I will persist with both and try to seek new and more interesting images to brighten my dull words with......

I leave you with this non lifeboat thought:

Being happy is your greatest contribution to the world.
Happy people are the real philanthropists.

(Aaron Wirpel)

Wednesday, 14 March 2007


Many is the time that I have been asked why I wanted to join a lifeboat crew. It's always struck me as a particularly dumb question.......given the chance who wouldn't? However, the fact that I read a lot of stories like this as a boy might help explain it...........

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the biggest rescue ever carried out by RNLI volunteers during the charity’s 183-year history. Four rowing lifeboats rescued 456 people from the White Star Liner Suevic after she struck rocks off the Lizard Point in Cornwall. In all 525 people escaped from the incident, and not one life was lost. This huge life saving achievement still stands as a record one hundred years after the shipping disaster.

The S. S. Suevic was on passage from Australia to Southampton with a general cargo when she ran onto the Maenheere Reef in dense fog and a strong south westerly gale. The signals of distress were quickly responded to by RNLI lifeboats from The Lizard, Cadgwith, Coverack and Porthleven. The Mullion lifeboat was also alerted but did not attend. In heavy seas, the RNLI volunteers rowed out time and time again to rescue hundreds of men, women and children. It took them almost 16 hours and, as a result of the bravery and determination of the volunteer crews, six silver RNLI medals were subsequently awarded.

Peter Greenslade, RNLI Honorary Secretary at today’s Lizard lifeboat station, and a local historian, says it’s hard to imagine just what the lifeboat crews went through one hundred years ago:

‘When the lifeboats first launched it was dark, foggy and very rough, but that didn’t deter the crews from putting to sea. We know that at times the rowers were barely stemming the tide as they pulled against the prevailing conditions. They were in open boats and at the mercy of the sea. It must have been terrifying and yet they went back to the Suevic time and time again. I, and the present day RNLI volunteers at The Lizard have nothing but admiration for what they all achieved.’

After the incident the Committee of Management of the RNLI granted six silver medals. One was to the Rev. ‘Harry’ Vyvyan, the Honorary Secretary at Cadgwith, in recognition of his gallant and arduous services (see attached report from The Lifeboat Journal of November 1907). At one stage he went on board one of the ship’s lifeboats manned by Suevic crew. Afterwards he recalled:

‘I went on board to steer her into Polpero but soon found the six men could hardly pull against the wind. You know the place and how nasty it is to come in with six men who could hardly pull at all, particularly against a heavy sea, a strong wind freshening all the time and a cross tide running strong….I can tell you I felt jolly proud when she touched the beach and all the women and children were landed safely. Directly I landed my passengers I stood up in the bows of the boat and called for volunteers to go back with me.’

Silver medals were also awarded to Edwin Rutter, Coxswain Superintendent of the Cadgwith lifeboat, William Mitchell, Coxswain Superintendent of The Lizard lifeboat and Edwin Mitchell, Assistant Coxswain at The Lizard. The two other silver medals were presented to two of the Suevic crew, George Anderson and William ‘Bill’ Adams, who time and again climbed down the side of the stricken ship to hand children to the waiting lifeboat crews. George Anderson said afterwards:

‘It was a trying task but, lor, to see those mothers clasp their bairns to their breasts and to hear their thanks and ‘God Bless yous’ – well, it made me feel that I could have swum ashore with all the babies in the ship.’

If you would like to make a donation to the RNLI I have added a new 'Justgiving' link to the side bar. No pressure but we do rely on your support to provide the service we do! Thanks.

Gaining experience

As with most things, training a lifeboat crewmember is never a completed job. Rather it is a continuing journey in search of new knowledge and skills. Each step makes you more useful and effective but in a sense you never arrive at that ultimate.....the fully trained lifeboat crewmember.

At Swanage, like most other stations, we believe that the best training comes from a mix of training and experience. With this in mind, we try to take a handful of less experienced crewmembers on each ALB shout. This gives them a flavour of what it is like and allows them to hone their skills and knowledge in a more realistic environment.

The picture here shows Chad and Matt relaxing on the after rail as we recover. Nothing was demanded of them this time but they were there, part of the team.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Tiller flat

The tiller flat is the after most watertight compartment on the Mersey. It is also, without doubt, the most unpleasant place in which I have ever had the misfortune to spend any time. Small, cramped, smelly and vomit inducing.

And yet there are a number of situations when it might be necessary to enter it while at sea: the hydraulics for the steering are contained within, so is the equipment for rigging up emergency steering and there are also the 'freeing trunks'. As can be seen in the picture these are actually rather clever hatches above each shaft which give access to the shafts and rudders while at sea so that ropes and other debris can be cleared from them.

When you consider how many of our shouts each year are to boats with 'wrapped' props perhaps these should be standard items on all boats?


There is no doubt, it is tough being a lifeboat mechanic. Dave here is ours (you can probably see the years of worry, stress and strain etched into his face). Of course we love him really, despite the fact that he nags us constantly.

His job is hard because he is the only full time employee at the station. He suffers long periods of inactivity with little to do (except planned maintenance - whatever that is?!) and is then expected to spring into action at a moments notice. Much of his job is administrative; sorting out crew problems, arranging exercise shedules, ordering spares and answering the phone and then some of it is practical; cleaning the boathouse, repairing broken bits on the boats and even keeping the slipway clear of rocks and weed.

As you can imagine, summertime is when it really pays to be a lifeboat mechanic. Hanging out at the boathouse, shades, shorts and 'T' shirt at the ready. A constant stream of interested visitors through the door to pass the time of day with. Then, not infrequently there is the excitement of a trip out on the boat when the pagers go off..........he is a lucky man.

Monday, 12 March 2007

'Marmalata buttress' rescue

I've discovered that it is nigh on impossible to take decent photos at night, with a compact camera on a wildly rolling lifeboat. However, this shot just about gives an impression of what was happening on Saturday night. At the top of the shot are the Coastguard team, halfway down the Coastguard cliff man (Austin Rocket.......yes really!) and one casualty and at the bottom the ILB. I'm sure Steve can tell us how high the cliff is here but take it from me, you probably wouldn't want to be there.


People often ask why the RNLI continues to use the 'D' class boat and indeed why it has replaced it with a boat which is, in many respects, virtually identical. I suspect that the standard RNLI answer to the question would be very simple. It does what it does very well. Sure it is not as fast as a rigid hulled boat, but it is plenty fast enough. It can be driven onto sand at speed. It tends to survive encounters with rocks by being flexible and bouncy. It can cope with loosing buoyancy chambers. Add to this the fact that it is very manoeuvrable, great for rescuing people out of the water, is in many situations far less intimidating to be rescued by than a bigger boat and if it gets trashed it is basically a very cheap boat to replace and it starts to make lots of sense.

The shouts this weekend were classic ILB stuff really. The climbers, had they not been rescued by the Coastguard would have been relatively easy to extract by ILB (they would of got wet but lived to tell the tale). And the dinghy rescue would have been much harder had we had to rely solely on the ALB.

It all goes to show that sometimes less really is more.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Shout - Dinghy in bay

No sooner had the crew packed away from this morning's exercise than our services were called on for the second time this weekend. At about 1300 I was just lifting my children into the car for our traditional Sunday afternoon trip to the town tip when my pager went off. Un-usually it was not a 'launch request Coastguard' page but 'launch ILB'. This often means that the launch is self-initiated (by one of our Cox's or DLA's) and that there is some urgency. I made the call not to respond as there were plenty of crew around and it was the ILB. As it happened a good call, there was soon a robust crew at the boathouse and in a short space of time they were on their way to the shout. It went something like this:

Crew: S. Williams (Helm), G. Steeden, Mt. Steeden

Details: The spring weather brought a number of sailing boats out for their first sail of the season from Swanage Sailing Club. Unfortunately, one of them suffered rigging failure and was spotted drifting in the middle of the bay by Sailing Club members. The alarm was raised and the ILB launched very quickly as a crew were available from the morning exercise. A tow quickly brought the Dart 18, ‘Clever Trevor’, back to the Sailing Club beach and the ILB was released back to station.

Fortunately no harm done, or at least nothing worse than dented pride! A job well done.

Sunny Sunday exercise

We Launched into the sun and a calm sea.Gav looked like he'd had a bit of a night of it, Jo looked fresh and enthusiastic as ever.We dropped the anchor just under the lighthouse at Anvil Point.We then got out the salvage pump and practised pumping in various ways and from various parts of the boat.You can make nice rainbows with a fire hose!

Everybody wants me to be
What they want me to be
I'm not happy when I try to fake it!
Ooh,that's why I'm easy
I'm easy like Sunday morning
That's why I'm easy
I'm easy like Sunday morning
I wanna be high, so high
I wanna be free to know
The things I do are right
I wanna be free
Just me, babe!
That's why I'm easy
I'm easy like Sunday morning

(The Commodores)

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Shout - Cliff job

Well, it's happened again. We've had a shout. Another cliff job as it happened. Not a dog this time but a person. Thankfully all was well with them, from what we could work out they were just stuck.

We were called to assist the Coastguard who were in the process of recovering the casualties using a cliff rescue. As a result all we really did was sit there and pray that nothing went wrong. Bottom cover if you like. Off course the Swanage and St. Aldelhm coastguard teams did a magnificent job and both casualties were recovered very swiftly. Well done boys!

From the Swanage lifeboat website:

ILB Crew: S. Williams (Helm), T. Greasty, G. Steeden
ALB Crew: M. Steeden (Coxn), R. Aggas, D. Turnbull, J. Gilmour, P. Elleray, K. Dimarco, Mt. Steeden, J. Chadwick

The first 'Both boats' shout of 2007 came when Portland Coastguard requested that both the Swanage Lifeboats launch to assist with the recovery of 2 trapped climbers at Marmolata Buttress just to the West of Anvil Point. One of the climbers was trapped about 60' down the cliff, the other at the bottom. The lifeboats launched and were quickly on scene where they were able to illuminate the area and provide communications to the base of the cliff. Swanage and St Albans Cliff Rescue teams made swift work of recovering the casualties and the lifeboats were released having been on scene for just under 25 minutes. Both climbers were checked over at the cliff top and found to be none the worse for their ordeal.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

A healthy crew

So healthy and keen in fact that we have had to bring in a new training rosta to cope. This has come about due to the fact that over the years our crew size (like most stations) has grown considerably. This is due to the reality that many people now work out of town, work weekends, take holidays or for other reasons are not always available. So, we have a crew about triple the size that we need on paper to launch both boats.

Generally this works well. However, so keen are our present crew, that our exercises have begun to get a bit out of hand. Imagine the situation, everyone turns up, they all want to go to sea, we end up with 19 on the ALB and 6 on the ILB. Can't be done. Consequently Dave has come up with a cunning plan which involves crew signing up for exercises in advance. We all hope that this works as it could well lead to a higher quality of training.

Naturally if it doesn't work we will all blame Dave!

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Pink bottom

I like to think that Eve, my eldest daughter, is no idiot. Though it is nice to have this affirmed. On a recent trip down to the boathouse I heard her asking, 'Daddy, why is her bottom pink'? Now this took me aback, not only had she noticed that the relief boat's bottom was anti-fouled (whereas ours is painted white), she had also picked up on the fact that boats are referred to as her or she! Not bad for a four and a half year old?

If you look closely at the photo you will also notice that on the transom it merely says 'Lifeboat' rather than 'Swanage Lifeboat' as ours does. It should not be long now before our boat is returned to us after her refit........sparkly, no longer bent and worn and fitted with lots of new bits we hope.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Sunshine on a rainy day

One of the real benefits of really dreadful weather is that the good weather, when it comes, is all the more dramatic and appreciated. It works like that on the boat too. Exercises and shouts (when we have them) at this time of year are mostly pretty misserable affairs. Slate grey sleaty skies and mixed up seas are the order of the day.

But in the darkest depths of winter lies hope. Spring emerges, flowers bloom, boats emerge from their winter cocoons and the fun begins. After months of gloves, mouldy oilskins, hats and drip beset necks comes the delight of the first shout in shorts and shades...........just around the corner. Last year it went like this:

Floating debris is a big problem at sea. Vessels are often caught up in old bits of rope or netting. This is exactly what happened to the 38' yacht 'White Oryx IV' 11Nm South of Peveril Ledge Buoy. They were on passage from Cherbourg to The Solent when suddenly the yacht's engine stopped. They had run over a large quantity of heavy netting. The yacht's skipper went over the side to see if he could clear the prop himself but unfortunately it was too deep for him to reach. There was absolutely no wind and the yacht was drifting West with the ebb tide at nearly 2 knots. As the yacht was disabled Portland Coastguard asked for assistance from Swanage's All Weather Lifeboat. The crew were paged and the Lifeboat launched 9 mins later, a course was plotted and best speed made towards the casualty. The lifeboat arrived alongside a little under 40 mins later. A tow line was passed across and the slow tow home began. Meanwhile crew at the lifeboat station were busily trying to find a diver to clear the yacht's prop to allow them to continue their passage. As luck would have it a local dive charter boat 'Mary Jo' was coming back into Swanage with divers onboard at about the same time as the Lifeboat and its tow. They very kindly offered to help and one of their divers soon cleared the large net allowing 'White Oryx IV' to continue on their passage to The Solent. The Lifeboat was then released to return to station.

Well there's a small boat made of china
It's going nowhere on the mantlepiece
Well do I lie like a loungeroom lizard
Or do I sing like a bird released

Everywhere you go you always take the weather with you
Everywhere you go you always take the weather
Everywhere you go you always take the weather with you
Everywhere you go you always take the weather, the weather with you

(Crowded house)

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Wet, Wet, Wet!

Optimistically I persist in trying to capture a photo of our erstwhile Cox'n looking valiant, heroic or steadfast.........given the present weather and the nature of his job I only ever seem to capture him looking wet and miserable. Perhaps that is the true nature of life as a lifeboat Coxswain?

Say I wouldn't steer you wrong now baby
I wouldn't steer you wrong

It's just that sweet little mystery
That makes me try, try, try, try
It's just that sweet little mystery
That makes me try, try, try, try

(Wet, Wet, Wet)

Friday, 2 March 2007

Mr Marks

Colin, or skid as he is more usually known, is one of our top-six crew. He has been on the crew for 14 years and has proven to be indispensible, not only as deck crew but also as an assistant mechanic. He is also one of the more mature members of the crew and this blend of wisdom and experience provides the Cox'n with a dependable crewman. Despite the appearance of this photo (which makes Skid look somewhat simple) he is of course a most intelligent chap who manages the local depot of a well known firm of builders merchants. He also brings his wife Sheryl to the party who acts as the treasurer of our crewfund (at least I think that's what she does......I certainly know it is something to do with money!)

Thursday, 1 March 2007

The girls who's world is spinning too fast for me

Last night's exercise was again a game of two halves. Each boat went to sea twice with a different crew so as to double the amount of training achieved.

Whilst the Mersey was at sea on the first trip I had the glad good fortune to be cornered by the glorious Becky........I may have mentioned previously her infinite organisational skills, well, it is she who quietly masterminds a good deal of the action for our lifeboat week in August. Off course there is a committee there to back her up, but we all know that we are just there to carry out her orders. Well, last night I was detailed off to organise the food again for our big evening do's on the Friday and Saturday nights. Off course Becky had the tact and good grace to make it sound like she was asking me and seeking my advise...........I think we both knew I was being told!

Never-the-less, what goes around comes around (or perhaps that should be .....what goes down might just come up), we then went to sea and during a period of my more exuberant boat driving in a reasonable sea poor old Becky's stomach got the better of her. Still, I think you'll agree, she didn't look to have suffered too greatly for the experience?

Kick off your flip-flops
And come dancing in the stream
Try and capture back that summer dream

(Colvin Quarmby)