Looking back at an awesome year

It’s been an awesome year for the little guys.

For a start, they’ve visited and learned about a whole host of lifeboat stations around the country, from the Lizard down in Cornwall to Oban up on the west coast of Scotland.

And they’ve met some truly fantastic people along the way.

They’ve helped to promote important safety messages and have been keen supporters of the RNLI’s ‘Respect the water’ campaign.

They’ve done their bit to raise funds to support the work of our lifeboat crews and lifeguards around the country.

And they’ve been welcomed into the RNLI family at Portishead lifeboat station, the newest station in the RNLI (although an independent station for twenty years) and home to an outstanding group of volunteers.

But the little guys are keen not to rest on their laurels. Having had such a great time last year, they’re determined to do even more in 2016.

They’re working on new safety messages and still have open invitations from a whole load of lifeboat stations around the country. They’re even looking into setting themselves up on Instagram. So watch this space.

And have an awesome year!

The little guys in Tighnabruaich

During their recent trip to Scotland, the little guys had the pleasure of spending a week in the rather excellent village of Tighnabruaich. Situated on the picturesque Kyles of Bute, Tighnabruaich is part of ‘Argyll’s Secret Coast’ and is a popular sailing destination for those intrepid enough to venture this far north.

The Crew had done some planning this time, so knew before they arrived that Tighnabruaich has its own lifeboat station. But they couldn’t wait to get down to the water’s edge to check it out for themselves. And here they are…

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The station was founded in 1967 with a D class lifeboat, which was kept in a boathouse in the grounds of the Tighnabruaich Hotel. The station swapped the D class for a C class in the early 1990. In 1998, the C class was itself swapped for a larger Atlantic 75, which was in turn replaced by the station’s current Atlantic 85.

The present boathouse was built in 1997 and is situated right on the shores of the Kyles of Bute. It has a slipway for launching the boat as well as a new floating pontoon extending out towards the Isle of Bute. The station has a considerable operating area, too, stretching around the Cowal peninsula and well up into Loch Fyne – almost an hour from the station at top speed.

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The station’s Atlantic 85 James and Helen Mason was launched in 2012 and, like the boat of the same class at the Crew’s home station of Portishead, has a crew of four and is powered by two 115 horsepower outboard engines, giving her a maximum speed of 35 knots. And here she is…

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Incidentally, the James and Helen Mason made waves at her naming ceremony by launching with an all female crew, including helm Kim Thomas, whom we had the pleasure of meeting during our visit. (And again the next day on the Tarbert-Portavadie ferry!)

The little guys had timed their visit to coincide with one of the station’s training sessions, so were delighted to meet Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM) Ronnie and members of the crew. They hung out for a while in the crew room upstairs in the boathouse, learning about the station’s history, and were then invited (to their great excitement) to have a look around the boat hall.

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Like Portishead’s Atlantic 85, the James and Helen Mason is launched from a carriage, which is pushed out of the boathouse and down the slipway by a rugged County tractor. The tractor itself is marinised, which means that it can wade safely to a depth of 1.5 metres. (You’ll notice that RNLI tractor drivers wear lifejackets, too!)

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The little guys felt somewhat dwarfed by the tractor’s huge tyres, but that’s quite a common feeling when you’re only an inch and a half tall. And they were soon distracted by the Atlantic on her carriage, freshly washed and ready to launch at a moment’s notice.

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After a while, though, it started to get a bit late and the little guys (and the Tighnabruaich crew) were keen to get home for their tea. It was fantastic, though, to visit a station so similar to the Crew’s own and to learn how the Tighnabruaich crew operate in the challenging waters off the Scottish coast. (And the little guys had to admit that the scenery here is far nicer than at home – sorry Portishead!)

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So a massive thank you to the crew at Tighnabruaich for their hospitality and for taking the time to show us around and to tell us all about their fantastic station. We hope to see you again soon!

Family

For my family, the RNLI has always been a very special organisation. From the moment I first tentatively took the tiller of our little Mirror dinghy with the bright orange sails, it was clear to me that the sea could be a dangerous place – and worthy of our respect. But an even greater respect was due to those who would voluntarily set out onto it, often in the very worst conditions, to help others in distress.

With my Dad working with the RNLI on the coast (and me sometimes tagging along), I soon became aware of the effort that went into keeping the lifeboats and their crews ready to launch. But the more I visit other stations with ‘the little guys’ and the more I get involved with our own local station here at Portishead, the more amazed I become by quite how many people give so freely of their time and their skills in support of this unique organisation.

Volunteers

While even the most casual of observers would recognise that a lifeboat needs a crew, it often comes as a surprise that the operational crew may number in the twenties, each of whom gives up his or her time for regular training, as well as periodic courses at headquarters in Poole or elsewhere. And then there are the ‘shouts’, which can come at any time or day or night and require an immediate response.

And when the pagers go off, it’s not just the ‘boat crew’ who respond. Tractor drivers, shore crew and marshals are also vital if the boat is to be launched quickly and safely. And these volunteers likewise have their own programme of training (for all of which, incidentally, we have the station’s training officer to thank), even though some of them will be members of the boat crew, too.

Behind the scenes, there’s even more going on. Each station’s Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM) performs a herculean task in keeping the operational side of things up and running. And both he/she and his/her team of Deputy Launch Authorities (DLAs) have the unenviable job of responding to alerts from the Coastguard and making the sometimes difficult decision of whether or not the lifeboat should launch.

Staying with the station itself, the wider role of the lifeboat station and the local community is the purview of the Lifeboat Management Group (LMG). Each station will also have its own Lifeboat Press Officer (LPO), who works tirelessly to promote the station’s work and to ensure that essential messages are communicated clearly and effectively in both mainstream and social media. And the Lifeboat Administrative Officer (LAO) and his or her team performs an equally vital role.

And lifeboats are expensive to develop, build and run. So fundraising also plays a huge role for any lifeboat station, with everyone (and I mean everyone) getting involved on a regular basis. All stations have a fundraising branch or similar group of fundraising volunteers, who work with the rest of the station staff to organise seemingly endless open days, fetes, collections, sponsored walks and the myriad of other activities that keep the charity, literally and metaphorically, afloat.

It’s not just stations that have fundraising branches, though. Virtually every town or village that I’ve ever been to across the UK, regardless of how near to or far from the coast, has its own team of fundraising volunteers. And they all work tirelessly to raise awareness of the work of our crews (and lifeguards, of course) and the funds that they need to keep going.

I could go on and on. I could talk about our station visits officers, who manage the daily flow of local people and groups in and out of the lifeboat station, or our education volunteers, who head out into the community to spread the word on coastal safety. I could talk about the volunteers who run our souvenir shops. I could talk about the many lifeguards around the coast, who help to keep our beaches safe. I could talk about the local employers who support our work, not least by being so understanding when members of the crew, pagers blaring, have to depart in a hurry. And I could talk about everyone who has ever dropped a few coins into a collection bucket or remembered the RNLI in their will.

It sounds a bit of a cliche, but it’s true. Without all of these people, the RNLI would not be the organisation that it is today. Without their support, our crews would not be able to launch their boats. Without their commitment, we would not be able to help those in distress. A very special organisation, yes. But also a very special group of people. A very special family.

Oban, Gateway to the Isles

During their recent trip to Scotland, the little guys were keen to soak up as much of the Highland atmosphere as possible. So right at the top of their ‘must visit’ list was the coastal town of Oban, the ‘gateway to the isles’.

This historic town, nestled on a well-protected bay, is perhaps best known as a tourist destination for those approaching by land and sea like. But it is also an important ferry port, with ferries travelling to and from many of the Hebridean islands.

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After they’d had a look around the town, the Crew were keen to check out the lifeboat station. They could just make out the lifeboat on the other side of the bay, so quickly set off.

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The Oban lifeboat station was established in 1972, though its current Trent class lifeboat ‘Mora Edith MacDonald’ has been on station since 1997. Since then, she has been called out over 1,500 times and has saved almost 100 lives.

Like the larger Severn class, the Trent is designed to operate safely in all weathers. She is just over 14 metres long and has a crew of 6. She has a maximum speed of 25 knots and a range of 250 nautical miles. And she is powered by two marine diesel engines, each of which pumps out a massive 850 horsepower.

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Typically, the little guys had failed singularly to plan ahead (and it was getting close to lunchtime), so had to content themselves with a quick wander around the outside of the lifeboat station. They were surprised to learn, though, that despite the relative youthfulness of the station, the building itself is over 180 years old.

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The ‘Mora Edith MacDonald’ is kept afloat alongside the station building, so that she can be ready to go at a moment’s notice. And the Oban crew certainly get a lot of practice, as the station is reputed to be the busiest in Scotland and their current boat was the first all-weather lifeboat to record over 100 launches in a year.

Having very much enjoyed their tour of the town, the little guys were delighted that they’d had the opportunity to have a look at the lifeboat station, too. They’re determined to learn more about the station and the islands around Oban, though, so I can sense another trip coming along in the not-too-distant future…

When the little guys met the Coastguard Team

As you’ve probably noticed, a couple of weeks ago the Crew took a brief road trip up to the wilds of Scotland. And while they were there, they had the honour of meeting up with their counterparts from Her Majesty’s Coastguard. Yes, it’s the ‘wee guys’ from The Coastguard Team!

The wee guys are based not far from where the Crew were staying on the sunny Argyll coast, so they popped over for a quick visit. First port of call, of course, was the lovely Barn at Millcroft for a rather delicious ‘working lunch’. But thoughts then turned to more nautical topics.

Eager to show the Crew what the area had to offer, the wee guys directed the little guys (this is going to get confusing…) to the Coastguard station at Kames, which is a small village situated on the Kyles of Bute. The station isn’t manned, but houses the local Coastguard Rescue Team’s vehicles and equipment. And it’s makes the perfect backdrop for a quick photoshoot…

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It wasn’t all standing around posing, though. The little guys were also keen to have a look at the Coastguard station itself. And the wee guys were more than happy to tell the Crew a little about the Coastguard Rescue Teams (also volunteers!) and how they work.

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That isn’t to say that there wasn’t a bit more posing, though…

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The little guys were keen to return the favour, though, and to show the wee guys the local lifeboat station at Tighnabruaich. This great little village is just a short hop along the coast from Kames and is home to the Atlantic 85 lifeboat ‘James and Helen Mason’.

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We’ll talk more about the lifeboat station in a later blog post, but suffice to say that both the wee guys and the Crew had a great time wandering around in the sunshine, learning about the lifeboat station and looking out over the glimmering waters between Tighnabruaich and the Isle of Bute.

All to soon, though, it was time for the wee guys to pack up and head for home. But the Crew were delighted to have had the opportunity to meet them and to learn more about their work with the Coastguard. We say it a lot, but it’s absolutely true. They really are all one big, happy family…