Monday, 29 December 2008

North by North-West

Never wishing to be far from the sea, my family and I have spent our holiday time this Christmas travelling to various aquatically far-flung corners of the country.

Last week it was Whitby (whilst there I purchased a copy of the new book about the Whitby Lifeboats which is excellent and an inspiration).

This week we are spending with another third of the family in Glasgow. We landed this morning in Prestwick having flown from Bournemouth and were collect by my sister-in-law who lives in Troon with her family. Not more than hour later we were ambling by the harbour side and gawping at the Troon Trent class lifeboat the Jim Moffat. Theirs is a very different type of station to ours being located net to the entrance to the rather busy local fishing harbour. Troon is also a pretty busy harbour for pleasure craft as well as a significant ferry port for Ireland. I guess they must have a fair amount of trade?

And so. Please don't expect too much in he way of interesting news over the next few days as I shall mainly be doing the Christmas thing: Panto, Ice-Skating, eating, drinking etc.

The final third of the family live in Northern Spain so we shall not be visiting them this time around though our thoughts are with them.

When I'm working yes I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who's working hard for you
And when the money comes in for the work I'll do
I'll pass almost every penny on to you

When I come home yeah I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who comes back home to you
And if I grow old well I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who's growing old with you

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked 1000 miles
To fall down at your door

(The Proclaimers - I'm gonna be (500 miles))

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Spare a thought

Merry Christmas everyone. I'd write more but I'm in Yorkshire and up to my elbows stuffing the Turkey. So, I hope you are all having a fabulous time and enjoying your family and gifts.

As you sit to eat, spare a thought for any crews out at sea (and there will be some).

Don't forget the 'T' in Christmas.....

Monday, 22 December 2008

Take me to your leader

I couldn't resist another photo of Martin today. It's not often that he provides me with so many superb photo opportunities but yesterday's exercise was one of them. Thanks mate!

P.S. Next time you get in the ILB; zip up your lifejacket and put a helmet on!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Man overboard

This mornings exercise went well. Both the ILB and ALB exercised together in Durlston bay and practised some casualty handling. We even managed to persuade Martin to be on of our casualties. He even put a drysuit on (I think that this is the first time I have ever seen him in a drysuit). I don't think we'll bother again took a good hour for him to stop moaning about the temperature of the water! Oh well, they do say you feel the cold more as you get older.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Long distance rescue

The Vendee Globe is a French organised single-handed, non-stop, round the world yacht race. It's run every 4 years and is seen by most as the pinnacle of yacht racing...the ultimate test of man and machine. This year's version of the race had by far the largest list of competitors which I can remember and has so far been filled with excitement. Earlier this week one of the British entrants, the hugely experienced Mike Golding, had to retire from the race (which he was at the time in the lead of) due to his mast coming down. Over the last few days an even more serious incident has occurred. Deep in the Southern Indian Ocean, more than 800 miles from the southern coast of Australia, round the world yachtsman, Yann Elies, has been rescued from his yacht by the crew of the Australian Frigate HMAS Arunta.

Two days ago he suffered a broken thigh bone after a fall on the foredeck of his boat. If you, like me, have been following this story, you will understand my relief that he has now been taken safely onboard the Australian Naval vessel. It is hard to imagine a less accessible place in which to need rescuing than on your own on a sailing vessel (which by the way was still sailing during the rescue) and so far from land.

Two fellow competitors, Britishwoman Samantha Davies and Frenchman Marc Guillemot both diverted to stand by the stricken competitor. Marc got there first and has spent much of the last 2 days stood by his countryman doing what he can to assist.

So well done to the Australian Navy and Sam and Marc thanks for giving thier time and energy to this tricky rescue. Job well done.

Party time

So the Christmas party was last night. I must say, this do seems to grow every year and last night was no exception. There were over a hundred people there, in effect, everyone who has helped us in any way over the last year had an invite and many of them showed up. Thanks for coming. As ever, the Ship did us proud and looked after us well with a superb buffet.

Sam was behind the bar (along with various ex-pupils of mine which made me think of this newspaper report yesterday in the Times) and at his cheery best.

The girls had all met up at Becky's place before hand to 'glamourize' themselves. It seemed to have worked too!

Everyone looked as if they were having a tremendous time.

Looking through the year book of photos that Becky had arranged it became evident that we are pretty good at parties!

John Deas ran the raffle and was his usual outgoing self.

Martin gave a speech (all the usual jokes about standing up were wheeled out)

This fantastic array of sea food was on offer and tasted as good as it looked.

And thankfully there was no need to hold back as there was plenty of food to go round.

A great night had by all to round off a superb and sociable year. Well done everyone!

Friday, 19 December 2008

On the wall

Finally we have managed to sort out a space to put up the fine model of the previous Swanage Lifeboat the 'J.Reginald Corah'. It now has pride of place on the boathouse wall and even has lights in the display case. I would heartily recommend anyone with an interest in Lifeboats to come an see it...truly awesome!

My youngest, Charlotte, loves all things Lifeboat and happily sits with our Mechanic Dave chewing the fat and discussing the finer points of how to save people. yesterday she wanted to know how we save people underwater. Dave tried to patiently explain that in actual fact we don't tend to do this!

Remember, tonight is the Christmas party. I will try and remember to Twitter. Otherwise, photos in the morning!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Not to be left out

Our new Chairman has obviously been reading the blog and this morning decided not to be left out of the race to deliver Christmas cheer:

Dear All

Since becoming your Chairman last month, all that I have seen and heard has reinforced my belief, developed over the years I have been associated with the Institution, in the great commitment and drive of our volunteers and staff. As we reach the end of another very successful year, I would like to thank you, on behalf of the Trustees, for everything you have done to help our charity save lives at sea over the past 12 months.

Whatever your role, your efforts are sincerely appreciated, especially when set against the background of the economic crisis. No one can safely predict the length and breadth of this downturn, or how it will impact charitable giving. But one thing is certain: we have a challenging 2009 ahead and we will have to be both flexible and resilient.

As we enjoy the imminent Christmas celebrations, pause for a moment to reflect on our lifeboat crew members and station personnel. Not only will they be on call during Christmas week, but we can expect them to launch around 100 times in that time. Furthermore, the statistics suggest that while most of us are warm and comfortable on Christmas Day, at least five crews will be called away from their families to launch to someone's rescue. In that respect Christmas Day is just like any other day of the year and I am heartened that their commitment is matched by having the best preparation possible, thanks to all our supporters, fundraisers, volunteers and staff.

I wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year.

Admiral the Lord Boyce
RNLI Chairman

I see he remains without a first name, never-the-less, we are delighted that he has sent his best wishes and from us here in Swanage; Merry Christmas to you too Baron Boyce.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Merry Christmas

Well, I'm busy with my Christmas as usual at this time of year. Not wishing to forget anyone, here's one for all of you out there! Merry Christmas, thanks for all of your comments and visits over the last 12 months...hope you have a safe and happy Festive time and a jolly happy New Year too.

Our Christmas party is this Friday in the Ship so watch this space for the usual photos. I am duty crew once more so it will be water fuelled debauchery for me. Oh happy times!

(Thanks to Giles for the image)

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Fathom this...

A fathom used to be the most common measurement of depth at sea (it has now been largely superseded by the meter). It could also be used to measure distance although this was less common.

I am fascinated by the history or Etymology of words. I understand that the word Fathom is derived from the old English word Faedm meaning to embrace, this in turn was derived from the Danish word Favn which literally means to have ones arms outstretched. The Swedes have a similar word Famm which also means to embrace.

The natural (and quickest) way for a sailor manning the lead on a sailing ship to measure the depth was for him to measure it in armspans as he pulled it in. Thus the Danish word favn passed into common usage and came to mean the distance between the tips of the middle fingers when a man's arms are outstretched sideways to their fullest extent. Fortunately this distance is roughly 6 feet so this has become accepted as the true distance of a Fathom. In a rare moment of poetic beauty an early act of parliament defined it thus: "the length of a man's arms around the object of his affections."

Of course in an age of echo-sounders and GPS plotters it is no longer acceptable to use a hug as a unit of measurement and so the Fathom has become almost obsolete. Most charts are now metric and give depths in metres. However, we still occasionally use Fathoms on-board the lifeboat. Why? I'm not sure really as it does cause a certain amount of confusion. As an example, our echo-sounder will give a reading in metres, feet or fathoms. We generally use metres or feet as we understand them. However, our anchor cable is marked in Fathoms (every 15 Fathoms in fact). And so to decide how much anchor cable to let out you must measure the depth in feet and then as a rough rule of thumb multiply this by 3 to give the required length of cable for normal conditions. You then need to divide this by 6 to give the number of fathoms required! So, with a depth of 30ft, multiply by 3 gives 90ft of cable needed, divide by 6 equals 15 fathoms. Luckily in this case our cable is marked every 15 fathoms.

To add slightly to the confusion we take a fathom to equal 2 metres whereas it is actually only 1.83 meters. Where the Fathom is used to measure distance it is multiplied by 100 to give a cable. A cable is often taken to be 200 meters whereas it is actually only 183 metres. A cable is also normally accepted as being one tenth of a nautical mile, again, this is not actually the case and 10 cables are less than one nautical mile. Confused yet?

But, if you think about it, why worry too much. These measurements were used in a time when there was no accurate way to measure anything on a sailing ship. If you can't measure accurately there is no point getting too stressed about what units you are using!

(thanks to: 'the Oxford companion to Ships and the Sea', Lena (mother-in-law) and Lisa (Danish mate))

Thursday, 11 December 2008


Made me smile! (Thanks Charlie...)

Festive exercise

Last nights exercise was a pretty cold affair. Nevertheless a large number of crew turned out and the time was spent well in both the ILB and the ALB.

Dave has been re-organising the deck-lockers where we stow all of the various ropes and lines on the boat. He briefed the crew on the new stowages and the reasoning behind each move.

The ILB went off an did it's own stuff for the most part. This included us putting 'Dead Fred' out to sea for them to find him. This they did easily and quickly.

We even had our own Christmas decorations on deck.

Down in the wheelhouse Gav, Tom and Steve spent time creating routes and setting up search patterns.

Meanwhile I was up on the USP with Oli doing some boat handling and driving. Very good he was too.

Apologies to Steve for the photos...

Then afterwards we had a crew-meeting. Nothing exciting to report except that the crew took the decision to buy a Nintendo Wii (whatever one of those is) for the crewroom. I've no idea why a chap would require anything other than a back copy of the 'Lifeboat Enthusiasts' newsletter or 'Land Rover Owners' magazine in order to while away the time. There you go, perhaps I'm getting old.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


is our chosen method of freeing vessels from entanglement in ropes and nets.

Weirdly we did none of this for the first few years that I was on the crew. However, as the years pass it seems to become more and more common. Is there more fishing gear out there? Is it less clearly marked? Are the tides stronger than they used to be? Do yacht skippers keep a poorer lookout than they used to? Who can say...all I know is that we seem to do more of this each year.

This was one very well equipped and competently crewed vessel which we helped out last year in the height of summer.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


122 years ago in the North of the Irish sea, 3 lifeboat crews went to the rescue of the 12 crew of a foundering German Barque, the 'Mexico'. The Southport lifeboat the Eliza Fernley launched first but capsized and 14 of her 16 crew drowned. Next the St Annes lifeboat the Laura Janet also capsized amidst mountainous seas and all 13 of her crew drowned. Finally a third lifeboat from Lytham got to the Mexico and in a long operation saved all of her crew and returned them safely to shore. In total 44 lifeboatmen went to sea that night. Only 17 returned.

The Times carries the full story this morning. I couldn't read it without feeling awestruck by the matter of fact way in which these men surrendered their own lives for those of others. You might also like to look here and here to read further.

A public fund for relief of the sixteen widows and fifty orphans was opened.
The RNLI contributed £2,000, the queen and the emperor of Germany also contributed. A further result of the tragedy was that the world's first ever charity street collection was held to raise funds for the bereaved families. Though the first, this collection lay the foundations for the RNLI lifeboat days which are now held regularly around the country.

(Thanks to the BBC for the Photo)

Monday, 8 December 2008

Monday morning 10am

Each Monday morning at 10am Dave sends out a 'housekeeping' pager message and a pager test. Because it is always precisely on time we know if there is a problem with our pagers. The following is this weeks' message:

ILB helm is Kev. DLA is Russ. Next exercise is Weds 10th Dec at 1900 followed by a crew meeting ALL to attend please.

Sometimes there is also extra information, today Dave added: This week is Russ's last ever week as DLA as he retires next week. Thanks Russ from all of us.

Ditto from me Russ.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Dry white

I'm not usually one to hog the limelight, but this video of our recent rescue of the RIB 'Dry white' on the Official RNLI YouTube channel has just been brought to my attention. The footage was sent to us by on of the passengers on the vessel and was edited by our mechanic Dave. I think it's pretty self evident what is going on. The film was taken with a small fixed video camera on the rib. Thanks guys for the footage!

Thursday, 4 December 2008


I'm in danger here of stepping into deep water and trying to explain a subject of which I have a very scanty understanding. Peter asked what the numbers on a lifeboats hull mean? Well, they are the operational number for the lifeboat and are the lifeboats true identity. However, each lifeboat can also be referred to in at least 3 other ways:

For example, our ALB is number 12-23. The 12 denotes that it is a Mersey class, and the 23 is it's sequential build number. Hence 12-23 is the 23rd Mersey class lifeboat. This number is used when we are on passage and talking to the Coastguard, as in 'Portland Coastguard, this is Lifeboat 12-23'.

While on service it is referred to as 'Swanage Lifeboat'. Any lifeboat that we are operating on service from Swanage is known as Swanage lifeboat. So if we have a relief lifeboat it temporarily becomes Swanage Lifeboat.

Each boat has a further number, it's 'ON' number. Ours is ON-1182. This is the number that the boat is assigned in build before it has been allocated to a station or given a class number. In a sense this is the true 'legal' identity of the boat and is how it is referred to by the engineers and mechanics.

Of course it then has a name, RNLB Robert Charles Brown. To be honest, it is seldom if ever referred to using this name.

And where do you find these names and numbers? 12-23 is painted on each bow. Swanage Lifeboat is painted on the transom. Robert Charles Brown is painted on each side of the wheelhouse. ON1182 is cast on a metal plaque contained in the wheelhouse.

And other lifeboats?

Well, the Arun class were numbered 52, most then had a 2 digit number following this as in 52-02, though some had a 3 digit number such as RNLB Snolda which was 52-030. This extra digit denoted that her hull was made of steel rather than wood or GRP. Tynes were numbered 47 followed by a 3 digit number also denoting a steel hull. Trents are numbered 14, Tamars 16, Seven class lifeboats numbers all begin with 17. There is then the odd other anomaly such as 12-001 which is a relief Mersey and has an extra digit due to being made of metal rather than GRP.

ILBs have a slightly simpler system in a sense. All 'D' class boats have a 3 digit number preceded by a D. Ours is D-613. They also have a name, again ours is the 'Jack Cleare'. It is referred to on the radio while on service as 'Swanage ILB'. When off service they are referred to by their numbers so our boat becomes 'Lifeboat Delta Six One Three'. Incidentally numbers above 600 are all of the IB1 type.

Atlantic class lifeboats have 3 digit number preceded by the letter B. Atlantic 21s started with numbers from 001 I believe. When the Atlantic 75 was introduced they were numbered sequentially from 700 and the 85s are numbered from 800 onwards.

The Tiger class lifeboats on the Thames have 3 digit numbers preceded by an E and hovercraft have a 3 digit number preceded by an H. That's right, they have a 3 digit number because the initial zero denotes a metal, in both cases aluminium, hull (thanks anon).

Daughter boats carried on ALBs are known as 'X' and 'Y' boats. We have an X boat...I can't remember it's number! 'X' boats with engines are known as 'XP' boats. On service our 'X' boat is referred to as 'Lifeboat X-ray'.

Phew!! Please let me know of any inaccuracies or anything which requires further explanation.

Ah well, I knew I wouldn't get it all perfectly right. A few more details for you (thanks Steve): The Numbers of each class refers to the length of the class. Merseys are 12m long, Tamars are 16m, Severns 17m and Tynes were 47ft. This also clears up something else which had confused me. I did say Arun class lifeboats were numbered 52 followed by numbers. The nagging doubt was that I was sure that Humber's old Arun, the 'City of Bradford IV', was numbered 54-03. And now I know why, 4 Aruns were built in GRP at 54ft rather than about that for a spotters detail!

Whilst on the subject of numbers it is worth noting that the RNLI has a typical seafarers attitude towards superstitions. Thus we have crew numbers but don't have a number 13. Anon has commented that there is no D-666, is there a 13th boat in each class? I wonder.

Thanks for all the comments, keep them coming please, I'm enjoying this!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Christmas shopping

Peter asked the following question:

Hi John,

Do you shop local for you’re day to day consumables for example smaller items like first aid kit refills mechanic Dave’s nuts and bolts or has the RNLI a central stores you can draw from?
If you source locally do Lifeboat stations have a station fund to cover this cost?


And the answer is yes, the RNLI does indeed have a central stores, indeed, it is a vast 'state of the art' logistics depot with a lot (someone please tell me exactly how many) of different items in it. So, when we need specific parts for our lifeboats (for example an ILB VHF aerial) or items which all stations use (such as RNLI flags) we order them from stores. However, many other items are bought locally. So, for example, the car wash which we use to clean the boats with after each launch is locally bought, as is the polish which Dave uses to keep the ALB looking sparkly. These are payed for out of central funds but bought locally. And then there are the items which we use but which aren't essential to lifesaving, such as tea and coffee for the boathouse, which are bought and payed for locally (normally out of the 'Crew-Fund').

So, if we need anything, Dave is the first port of call, he has a reputation for being pretty tight with things (perhaps a result of being a Yorkshireman - and a good thing for sure). If he agrees that the item needs ordering he will decide where it is to come from and either buy it or put in the order.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Weathering the Storm

Along with the rest of the world the RNLI is caught up in the Global economic crisis. I, along with others in the Institution have just received a message from our Chief Executive, Andrew Freemantle. In his words,
It is too soon to say what the exact effect will be on the Institution, but despite this year's excellent fundraising results and our plans to build on this success, we are expecting a downturn in legacy income in 2009. At the same time, our reserves are lower, reflecting a sharp fall in our investments in common with other charities. In the short term, maintaining the 6-18 month range for free reserves set by our Trustees is going to be a challenge.

It is clear from his message that there is not going to be any 'knee-jerk' reaction, however, it is equally apparent that there are some tough decisions to come. With this in mind the RNLI management has come up with the following message:


Support us – Through good times and bad times, thanks to our supporter’s donations the RNLI has been saving lives for 184 years. But, the economy is currently in recession, many of our supporters face difficult times and next year our legacy income is expected to drop significantly. Your support is needed more than ever – together we can weather to storm!

Trust – The RNLI is an independent charity funded through voluntary donations and not by the Government – your vital gift will always be used to best possible effect. Trust our Lifeboat crews and Lifeguards and trust us to use your money prudently.

Our crews – We are determined to continue to do our very best to equip and train our Lifeboat crews and Lifeguards and our absolute priority is to ensure that our volunteers and staff remain properly prepared to save lives at sea now and in the future.

Reserves – Like all other Charities, the RNLI’s investments have been effected by the downturn in the investment market. However, through careful investment over the years and to meet situations such as this, we have built up reserves for the long-term management of essential capital projects. At sea we have to take risks, but on land we aim to minimise them through a defensive investment strategy.

Means – We cannot live beyond our means so we will adjust our budget and business plans where necessary, safeguarding our core plans; but some projects may have to be delayed. We are redoubling our efforts to make every penny count.

We look forwards to your continued support for the vital work we do...thanks.