A day at the museum

While they were down in Falmouth, the Crew couldn’t resist popping in to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, which is situated on the waterfront just a stone’s throw away from the lifeboat station. Our visit was even more exciting because the museum is currently hosting an exhibition all about search and rescue, including the work of the RNLI.

Outside the National Maritime Museum Cornwall

The Crew couldn’t believe their luck

Being right next to the marina, even just walking towards the museum puts you in a nautical mood. As we looked at the boats coming and going, I was reminded of Sir Robin Knox-Johnson returning to Falmouth in his yacht ‘Suhaili’ after becoming the first person to sail single-handed and non-stop around the Earth. Having left the port some ten months previously, he returned in 1969 as the winner (and sole finisher) of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. (You can read more about him in the museum.)

Falmouth Marina

There were some extremely nice boats in the marina

Inside the museum, the Crew were overawed by the number of boats on display. From motor launches to Olympic sailing dinghies, there was something for everyone. There was even Frank Dye’s 15′ 10″ (4.85m) Wayfarer dinghy ‘Wanderer’, in which he sailed the 650 mile passage from Scotland to Iceland. I spent much of my youth sailing Wayfarer dinghies on the somewhat calmer waters of Poole Harbour, so have a particular soft spot for the class. And now so do the little guys.

In the museum

So many boats, so little time

The Crew were particularly taken with the high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail evident in the boats on display, as well as in the on-site boatbuilders’ workshop. Boatbuilding seems to be one of those crafts where doing things right is still more important than doing things cheaply. Which is reassuring, given how much we rely on our various vessels every time we head out to sea.

The Crew pick their favourites

The Crew pick their favourites

The highlight of the visit was, perhaps inevitably, the search and rescue exhibition, which runs until the beginning of next year. The Crew had fun clambering over the Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat and the lifeguard quad-bike. But the coolest thing by far was the enormous 70-foot Sea King search and rescue helicopter. In a touch of genius, it’s been painted on one side in the red and grey of the Royal Navy and on the other in the vibrant yellow of the Royal Air Force. And, even better, you get to wander around inside it.*


Can I have one? Please?

There was also a D class inflatable lifeboat on display, this one there explicitly for kids to clamber around on and play with. So that’s exactly what the Crew did…

D Class

On a D class lifeboat at last

In fact, they were none too pleased when it was time for us to move along to the next exhibit. They’re now more determined than ever to get their hands on a D class of their own. Thankfully, though, the Crew have been invited to visit a couple of RNLI stations with D class boats of their own, so this should help them to get their regular fix for the immediate future.

D Class

Yep, this’ll do just fine…

Another highlight of the museum is the observation tower, from which there’s a fantastic view all the way across the harbour. Last time I was there, I met a former RNLI colleague of my dad’s, who was volunteering at the museum. This time, though, we had everything to ourselves. Which was probably all for the best, given the Crew’s penchant to muck about.


Erm… is everything supposed to be upside down?

I’m not usually a big fan of museums. But I’ll always make an exception for this one. It seems to strike just the right balance between acknowledging the past, celebrating the present and exploring the future. In fact, the same could probably be said for the whole town of Falmouth itself. We really enjoyed our visit and can’t wait to go again.

* It’s far smaller inside than you would expect. Like an inverse TARDIS.

The little guys hit Falmouth

With the little guys coming from a proud nautical tradition, it was never going to be long before they found themselves in Falmouth. Situated – as the name may suggest – on the mouth of the River Fal on the south coast of Cornwall, this town and port has long been at the heart of Britain’s maritime heritage.

I had to head down that way for work, so the Crew happily tagged along. And having heard that Falmouth RNLI offered guided tours of the station and its two lifeboats, there was considerable excitement in the car on the way down. Here are the little guys in front of the station, which is shared with the Coastguard.

Falmouth Lifeboat Station

The Crew in front of Falmouth lifeboat station

The station has two lifeboats. In the boathouse itself is an Atlantic 75 rigid inflatable, named ‘Eve Pank’. The boat has a noble history within the RNLI, having previously served as a relief lifeboat at the Sheringham, Bundoran, Skerries, Brighton, Poole, St. Bees, Ramsgate and St. Helier stations. (Relief lifeboats form a special fleet maintained by the RNLI, which ‘stand in’ for – or ‘relieve’ – stations’ own boats when the latter need to go away for servicing, repair, etc.)

Moored alongside the boathouse is (normally) the station’s Severn class all-weather lifeboat, the ‘Richard Cox Scott’. However, when we were there, the boat was itself away for a refit, so had been replaced temporarily by the relief lifeboat ‘Osier’. The two boats are essentially the same, but lifeboat geeks (like the Crew) might be interested to know that the ‘Osier’ has a small crane to launch the inflatable ‘Y-boat’ stored on the cabin roof, while the ‘Richard Cox Scott’ has a ramp mechanism to launch the tender over the stern.

Anyway, here’s the ‘Osier’. You can just see the little Y-boat on the left.

RNLB Osier

The relief Severn-class lifeboat ‘Osier’

The Crew were delighted that Simon, one of the RNLI volunteers, was available to show us around. We started in the boathouse itself, looking at the inshore lifeboat and all of the kit that the (real) crew have to keep them safe out on the water. Simon was especially keen to point out that the helmets worn by lifeboat crew members are made in Cornwall.

Falmouth Lifeboat

The Crew in front of the ‘Osier’

We then moved over to the all-weather lifeboat. And the Crew got even more exited when I pulled the little guys out of my pocket (I know, they surely deserve better travel arrangements) and asked Simon if it would be OK to take some photos of them on the boat.

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen them on the internet. Sure. No problem.’

Famous already…

So here are Mechanic Dave and Crew Member Susie on the deck of the ‘Osier’.

On Deck

Attention on deck!

And here they are in the wheelhouse, checking out the engine controls. The boat has two Caterpillar 3412 TA marine diesel engines, which each produce 1,250 horsepower at 2,300 revolutions per minute. So I was very keen that the little guys didn’t touch anything.

Main Cabin

I wonder what this button does…

As we made our way around the ‘Osier’, Simon told us about some of the history of the station. Falmouth got its first lifeboat way back in 1867, when the ‘City of Gloucester’ arrived on station. The boat was funded by the people of Gloucester, hence the name. But despite serving in Falmouth for twenty years, the boat saved only two lives. And these were, Simon told us with a wry grin, people who fell into Gloucester Docks during the new boat’s naming ceremony.

Our final stop was the upper steering position on the flybridge. From here, the lifeboat’s crew have much better visibility, which is ideal if they are trying to come alongside another boat or to find someone in the water. The Crew definitely liked the view from this high up.


The view from the flybridge

With our visit now coming to an end, all that remained was to thank Simon for a most excellent tour and to pop in to have a look in the RNLI shop attached to the station. And the Crew couldn’t resist a last quick photo as I signed the guestbook.

In the shop

Signing the guestbook

A big thank you to all at Falmouth RNLI for a brilliant visit. Both the Crew and I had an absolutely fantastic time. And we were all really impressed with the station, the boats, the volunteers and the outstanding base of local support that was evident around the town. Nothing embodies our nation’s maritime heritage more, in our view, than the courage, commitment and skill of the RNLI and its volunteers.