Friday, 28 November 2008


So, last nights AGM was everything I expected. Robin stood and spoke for a while, so did Neil, as did Diana and Martin and also Steve our Divisional Lifeguard Inspector (and was the most grown up looking Lifeguard I've ever met...he even had shoes and long trousers on)!

It is, more seriously though, our time of year for thanking people and making presentations and awards. Last night we said farewell to Gordon, one of our long-serving DLA's and also Myra our long-standing treasurer (34 years I think). Farewell and thank you to you both.

And then afterwards we had a pint and played some 'shove ha'penny' (no really, we did).


Whilst at work yesterday the ALB went out on service at lunchtime. Martin ended up panicking slightly as he had yet to write his speech for the AGM. As I wasn't there I'll let Steve tell the story:

With Swanage's All Weather Lifeboat (ALB) in Poole for repairs it was the Relief Lifeboat 'Peggy & Alex Caird' that was called into action yesterday.

Portland Coastguard requested that the lifeboat launch to the assistance of a 35' yacht that had suffered catastrophic steering failure (the steering wheel fell off!) in the tidal race off St Albans Head. The lifeboat launched and met up with the yacht about 0.5Nm SE of Anvil Point. A towline was passed across and the slow tow against the strong ebb tide commenced, complicated by the yachts rudder being stuck to starboard. After looking at the weather forecast it was decided to tow the yacht to Poole as there was a possibility of NE wind overnight. Once the yacht was secured alongside Poole Quay the lifeboat was released to return to Swanage.

The good news is Martin's speech was every bit as good as it usually is...

Thursday, 27 November 2008


It's our A.G.M. tonight at the Pines Hotel in Swanage. This is a fairly reflective occasion where our Chairman Robin Tiller, our Treasurer, our Coxswain and various others will spend time talking about the year gone past. Perhaps because of it's backwards-looking nature, many of the crew find it a fairly baffling event. You see, most of us are more accustomed to looking forwards than looking back. By our nature we are inclined to train for the next shout rather than dwell on those from last year. We're more interested in planning next years fundraising than analysing last years.

Still, we all turn up year after might be something to do with the bar?!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Questions, questions...

Here's another recent question:

Hi John
I was just wondering if all Lifeboat Coxswains can drive all classes of Boat or whether they are only allowed to drive there own class. You sometimes say that one of the crew brought a different class from Poole for exercise are all crews able to do this is they are based near a Lifeboat 'Depot'?

The answer is pretty simple really. No, Coxswains are not 'qualified' to drive all classes of lifeboat (though I have no doubt that they are capable of doing so). To be qualified to Cox a particular lifeboat it is necessary to go to sea in that class with an Inspector and be 'passed out' on that class (at least that is how my memory serves me....correct me if I am wrong someone).

So, are other crews able to borrow lifeboats and other craft from their local depot? Well, yes and no. Ultimately, if they can show a need, either training or PR, and have someone qualified to cox it, then the request would be looked on favourably I'm sure.

So how do we manage it? Well, our second Cox'n Rob works at HQ Poole. He is the Fleet Operations Manager (Lifeboat test-pilot to you and me) and as such is qualified to Cox every class of lifeboat in fleet. It is his job to take these boats to sea and use them on a daily basis. So when it fits in with our training or fundraising activities it is not uncommon for him to bring boats over from Poole.

Of course Odin, which we used in a recent exercise, is not a lifeboat at all but a test-bed for a variety of pieces of kit. As such it really is Rob's responsibility.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Maud Smith

It's not uncommon to find me staring at the walls of our boathouse looking kind of slack-jawed. And the reason for this isn't actually that I'm the village idiot, rather, that I'm drawn towards the history that abounds there.

One side of the boathouse is completely covered in large boards bearing the details of all the shouts undertaken by past lifeboats (and indeed present lifeboats) of Swanage. The other side and the back wall are covered almost in their entirety by picture frames containing crew photos, plaques and various awards, vellums, medal certificates and the like.

This is one of them, it refers to the 'Be Happy' shout on the 26th October 1996. This shout is legendary amongst the crew, not least because it was our last medal service. And all stations need a history like gives you a perspective and perhaps serves as a cautionary note?

Friday, 21 November 2008


The RNLI passionately believes in spending money wisely and getting best value out of all purchases. A natural extension of this is that when items reach the end of their useful life with the RNLI they are disposed of in a way which generates income. Consequently, every couple of months an e-mail arrives in my in-box offering various boats/cars/engines for sale. Today's mail was all boats, mainly boarding boats of various types, but also including this inflatable dinghy:

Avon Commercial Inflatable Dinghies

(Non RNLI type, Y-Boat size) Engine not included

2 available at £250 boat only

Sale is based on buyer collection ex works from RNLI HQ Poole.

So, I've made a bid 'cause I need a tender for my motor-boat and it seems like good value.

And before you ask, these sales are open to RNLI employees and volunteers only so no, you can't buy anything. The reason? Presumably because the RNLI wants to avoid disputes or bad PR caused by selling old, worn out or potentially unreliable pieces of kit to the public!

Wish me luck...


Our kit is covered in retro-reflective tape. It's not hard to understand why. Particularly so the ILB kit which is probably more likely to end up in the water with its' wearer.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Blown apart

Last night's exercise was a medical exercise created and run by Gav. He'd put a tremendous amount of effort into it and produced a very realistic scenario using some excellent casualties, a fishing boat and 'Dead Fred'.

The situation which greeted us as we arrived on-scene was of a fishing boat that had blown up. The skipper was distressed but not visibly injured. There were two obvious casualties; Kim above was burnt to the neck and face, while Emma below seemed to have a rather nasty wound to her arm (bit of it had fallen off)!

Being honest we were all rather rusty. Assessments of the casualties were made but a few bits were missed out and, sadly for Emma, immediate steps to stem her blood loss weren't taken at the assessment stage. However, that's how it goes, scenarios aren't the real thing and I'm darned sure we'd have done the right thing in a real situation!

It was generally our more recent crewmembers who did the first aiding last night and one real benefit was that we discovered that we truly have an impressive depth of skill across the whole crew.

We then had a very thorough and skillful wash-up conducted by Gav and John in the crewroom. Everyone had their say and I think the consensus was that we'd done alright on balance.

Rob also made us sit a multiple choice theory paper to assess our level of 'Skill Fade'. I'm happy to report that no one dropped more than one mark. All good...

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Please mind the gap...

Mart asked:

I'd never noticed before, but do you have 2 removable rails to allow you to close the doors? I'd never really paid attention to it before now, but I can see now that your slipway leaves above floor height so to speak. I think all the others I have seen the slipway is level with the floor.

Well spotted Mart, we do indeed. A long time ago the old pulling lifeboats were launched on a cobbled slipway at ground level. With the arrival of motor lifeboats the slip was raised but a gap had to be left for people to pass along the path in front of the Boathouse. Hence the orange timbers.

I tried hard to find some reasonable photos showing this and failed. Anyway, here are a couple which sort of show what you are talking about.

Here the boat is being re-housed in the dark. You can just make out the timbers bridging the gap.

This too shows the timber in place and crossing the gap.

This shot gives a rough idea of how high and wide the gap is.

Incidentally, it wouldn't matter much if the timbers weren't there. The gap is only 5 or 6 feet wide and the boat is 38ft long and reasonably light at each end so unlikely to tumble into the gap!

Anyway, thanks for the question Mart, any others?

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Living with the unexpected...

There I was, just arrived at the tip with the mornings labours in the back of the land rover, when my pager went off. So I did a quick turn around (and grabbed a shiny pink bike I'd spotted for one of the girls), then headed down to the boathouse. On arrival I was greeted with groans about the fact that it was a shout to a RIB stuck on a pot-buoy and 17 miles out into the channel at that! It took us an hour and 20 minutes to get to where we had been led to believe the boat was (another story there), then a further 20 minutes to actually locate the vessel before we could begin our work.

Of the three persons on-board, one was suffering pretty badly with sea-sickness so we decided to take all three off and put a crewman aboard. All routine stuff so far. After a bit of manoeuvring we gave up with the grapnel and decided to set up a tow to give the boat a pull to see what would luck would have it, it came free!

And in a nut shell, that is how Matt and I managed to find ourselves 17 miles out into the channel this afternoon heading North towards Swanage doing 37 knots in a 7 metre RIB with the broadest of grins on our faces! Needless to say, the journey home was a dam sight more fun than the journey out.

I am of course delighted to report that all three persons on the vessel were returned to the boathouse fit and well. Their boat will remain on our lifeboat mooring overnight. Meanwhile, they were chauffeured to a local hotel by my wife Liz. All part of the service!

If you want to read the grown up version of this story, try here.

(No picture I'm afraid...I didn't happen to take my camera to the tip!)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Into the blue

So the boathouse floor is coming on.

This picture gives some idea of what it will look like. It's certainly much bluer than the old floor.

The guys spent time today doing the coving around the slipway pillars.

They also gave the whole floor a coat of primer and a light sprinkling of grit.

Cast my boat out to the ocean
And set it sails to the wind
Gentle breeze blowing into my heart
I'm alive in this gentle world
A life carefree
A life carefree

(Thanks to Dave again for the photo and Mary Black for the lyrics)

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


Is the name of the game this week. As part of the maintenance programme the boathouse floor is being re-newed with a special non-slip coating.

By day the boats need to be moved outside to let the workmen get access to the floor.

A fellow with a large sanding machine has skimmed the surface to allow the coating to get a key.

Then another fellow with quite literally the largest hoover in the world has sucked up all of the dust and mess (we hope).

And finally, later on in the week, this blue coloured stuff will be laid down onto the floor.

Tread lightly...

(Thanks Dave for the photos)

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

At the going down of the sun...

In 1942 the New York Times said that 'even in peace-time the long coast of the British Isles is stormy and treacherous. In time of war...the work of the life-savers is a continuous test of skill and courage.'

Today we remember the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have taken part in armed conflicts for our defence. We might also remember the Lifeboatmen who put to sea to assist those who were in peril at sea during the dark years of the two world wars.

As an example, 19 lifeboats took part in the evacuation of British Soldiers from Dunkirk. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of men owed their lives to the brave acts of the heroic crews of the lifeboats. The Commander of the destroyer HMS Icarus said at the time, 'The magnificent behaviour of the crew of the Margate life-boat who, with no thought of rest, brought off load after load of soldiers from Dunkirk, under continuous shelling, bombing and aerial machine-gun fire, will be an inspiration to us as long as we live.'

In a typically British statement, the second in command of the small boats at Dunkirk said, 'I hope to have you (the lifeboat crews) with me at my next evacuation.'

We will remember them...

(Read 'Storm on the Waters' by Charles Vince)

Sunday, 9 November 2008


Some things are hard to practise on your own. For example...towing. So today Rob brought Odin round from Poole to use as a casualty vessel for the mornings exercise. It was a blustery morning so conditions were pretty realistic and everybody got the chance to put into practise all of the theory.

The Rowing Clubs new gig 'Dancing Ledge' was also out there training. She is one of the new breed of GRP gigs and is being used purely as a training vessel. Smart hey?

Odin is an Ocean Dynamic Aluminium RIB belongs to the RNLI and has been used as a test bed for both FSB2 (Tamar) and FCB2.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Farewell and hello...

So our Chairman of four years, Sir Jock Slater, has today stood down (I'm assuming that this was planned)? We haven't seen much of him in Swanage but a quick browse on google shows that he has been pretty active visiting other stations around the coast. No doubt he has had to sit through more than his fair share of meetings too. So thanks very much Sir, we salute you...

He sent us this departing message:

As I stand down today after nine years as a trustee and over four years as chairman, I send my heartfelt thanks and good wishes to all members of the RNLI family - lifeboat men and women, lifeguards, those in front line support and those who raise the funds. I pay tribute to the permanent staff who keep the show on the road and to our thousands of volunteers without whom the RNLI would not exist.

I know that the Institution will go from strength to strength in the years ahead.

Keep up the good work!

Jock Slater

6th November 2008

He is superseded by another retired Naval Officer, Admiral the Lord Boyce GCB OBE DL. Oddly, he doesn't seem to have a first name, so we shall have to remain on more formal terms than we did with Sir Jock. Now this Admiral/Lord has had a seriously impressive Naval career, read his Biography:

Lord Boyce joined the Royal Navy in 1961. He commanded three submarines and the Submarine Sea Training Squadron and was also an Anti Submarine Warfare specialist. He commanded the frigate HMS BRILLIANT, was Director of the Naval Staff and Senior Naval Officer Middle East. He was promoted to the Flag List in 1991 and was subsequently Flag Officer Sea Training, Flag Officer Surface Flotilla, Commander in Chief Naval Home Command and Second Sea Lord and Commander in Chief Fleet. During this period he was knighted and also held a variety of senior NATO Commands. He became First Sea Lord in 1998, Chief of Defence Staff at the beginning of 2001 and retired in May 2003. He was elevated to the peerage in June 2003, and appointed Lord Warden and Admiral of the Cinque Port, and Constable of Dover Castle, in 2004. Lord Boyce is a keen sportsman, a Freeman of the City of London, an Elder Brother of Trinity House, and a Knight of St John and is involved in a number of charities, organisations and associations, which includes being President of St John Ambulance (London District), Trustee of National Maritime Museum, and Colonel Commandant of the Special Boat Service.

Judging from his current list of responsibilities he has a higher tolerance of meetings than I do! Baron Boyce...welcome.

Thursday, 6 November 2008


There's no doubt that for John, Darren, Liz and I the Triathlon training was a high point of last year. So, it's now getting to that time of year when little is going on and our thoughts turn to adventurous ideas for the coming year. Nothing concrete has emerged yet but we have an inkling of a plan.....

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

So Mart asked...

What made you want to become involved with the lifeboat, and how did you become involved. Were you always boat crew, or did you start helping in other ways?

Well, the answer to the first question is in this picture really. I was brought up in a small fishing village in Yorkshire called Runswick bay. The village was a lifeboat village and all of us young lads were in awe of the boat and it's crew. Of course things change and at 4 a.m. on 1st July, 1978, we stood on the beach and watched the lifeboat put to sea for the last time. After 112 years service to fishermen, sailors and holidaymakers, the lifeboat era had come to an end. So for most of my childhood I remember the boathouse being used by the ex mechanic of the lifeboat, Bill Cole, as his fishing shed where he stored his boat Patricia and his David Brown tractor. However, I still wanted to be a lifeboatman and couldn't pass the boathouse without catching a wiff of its intoxicating smell and dreaming of what it would be like to put to sea on a stormy night in a lifeboat.

In due course the villagers decided that a local rescue facility was needed for the summer months and so the Runswick Bay Rescue Boat was born. This small rib was, and is still, housed in the old tractor shed adjacent to the old Lifeboat house. Amongst others, my father crewed this boat in the early days when home from sea, and indeed I too spent some time on the crew as a youngster. This came to an end however when I left home to go to sea.

And so, when I arrive in Swanage in 1999, it seemed obvious that I should show my face in the boathouse and see if it might be possible to join the crew. Luckily both Bonz (then Mechanic) and Chris Haw (then Cox'n) seemed to think that this was a reasonable proposition and the rest as they say...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Do you want to come?

Anonymous asked this question:

How do you choose which crew to take on each shout if more than needed turn up at the boathouse? Is it down to experience or a mix of the novices and the hardened crew?

Now there's a question! I think that it is one of those things which each station does differently and each method has it's advantages. For example:

One station I know in the north of the country runs a first come first served type system, as crew arrive they collect a tally from next to the door and the first 5 (plus mechanic and Cox'n) go on the shout. The problems with this are that you might end up with an experienced crew on a 'big' shout, it encourages speeding, the same people might always go because they live close or work close and it also encourages competitiveness amongst the crew.

Another station I know runs a sort of 'squash ladder' type arrangement. Once a crew member has done a shout they go to the bottom of the list and work their way up again. Scrupulously fair but again might mean that the boat might go with a poorly experienced crew.

I've even heard of stations which run a sort of on duty crew. For a week at a time they have a nominated crew and they are the guys who respond initially if there is a shout. Good, but again, you end up spreading your experience thinly and it does require crew to live and work nearby.

And us? Well, we run two systems, one for the ILB and one for the ALB.

On the ILB it is a case of first come first served, that is, the first helmsman through the door commands the boat and then the next two crew (or helmsmen) go too. The Helmsman has a right of veto though, so if there is a particular need for experience or skill he can stand crew down and nominate others.

On the ALB we use the crew list as our guide. This list is in order of experience and time on the crew. The top 6 (Cox'n, 2nd Cox'n, Mechanic, Deputy 2nd Cox'n and numbers 5 & 6) automatically climb onto the boat if they are there. Then, depending on whether any of them haven't arrived, what type of shout it is, experience of the remaining crew, who's been on a shout recently and whether he can remember their names, the Cox'n will fill up the remaining spaces from those stood at the bottom of the stairs. And generally this works well. It means that the first principle is that the boat will go with the most experienced crew. It means everyone gets a few shouts each season. It also means that the Cox'n may bring on less experienced crew over time. Of course, as with the other methods, it's not without's not perfect, we can accept that!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Thomas Gray Silver medal

Remember our First Aid instructor, Paul Savage? Well, it turns out that he ought now to be known as 'the award winning First Aid instructor' - Paul Savage!

Paul's new style course has now been rolled out to other crews around the coast and is also being used on the (also awards winning) Sea-Survival course. By all accounts it is being very well received by those who attend (three of our crew; Daz, Sam and Ty were on the course last week).

Well done Paul on your Silver medal, no doubt there was also a cash prize which you will be sharing with your erstwhile guinea-pigs in due course?!

I seem to be having problems with photos today so I'll try again later.