The little guys visit RNLI HQ

We hear it all the time when we’re out and about. ‘Poole’ did this. ‘Poole’ said that. Oh, you’ll need to check with ‘Poole’. The RNLI’s headquarters in this Dorset town have taken on an almost mythical status across the organisation. But things recently got a whole lot more real for the little guys. Because they managed to wangle themselves an invitation to visit this throbbing heart of all things lifeboat.

We travelled down the night before, so as to avoid any last minute traffic-related hiccups. Which had the added bonus that we got to stay in the extremely pleasant RNLI College, a home-away-from-home for lifeboat crews developing their skills. And also, I should probably add, available for courses, conferences and short breaks.

College Reception

The following day, we didn’t have anything scheduled until mid-morning, so while the Crew got themselves ready, I put on my trainers and went for a run down to the beach at Sandbanks. As I lolloped slowly around the harbour, memories of a youth spent sailing between the islands and working on the harbour cruise boats came flooding back…

Back at HQ, our first activity was a tour of the College itself – with the highly knowledgeable and extremely pleasant Chris as our guide. Now, I’ll tell you more about our tour in another blog post at some point, but suffice to say that the College is – to put it quite simply – awesome. And that’s before we even start to talk about the lifeboat simulator. It was so realistic, the Crew were wobbling around on their sea-legs for quite some time afterwards.

Sim 11

After lunch in the College restaurant, it was off to the All-Weather Lifeboat Centre (ALC), this time with naval architect Dan and Ross, the man behind the ‘Respect the Water’ campaign and the kind soul who had invited us to visit in the first place.

ALC Sign

The little guys were delighted to see several Shannon lifeboats under construction and really enjoyed having the opportunity to see the parts that other tours, quite frankly, just cannot reach.

ALC Assembly 2

Our last (but by no means least) stop was the Sir William Hillary building, to visit the coastal safety, social media and marketing teams. The Crew and I were overwhelmed, to be honest, that so many people were happy – keen, even – to take time out of their busy schedules to tell us more about what they do.

SWH 2

As I said, we’ll tell you more about our visit in future blog posts. Suffice to say for the moment that, if you ever get presented with the opportunity to visit the RNLI HQ in Poole, seize it with both hands. Because it’s a great place with great people doing great work. And it most definitely lives up to the myth that surrounds it.

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…

Tighnabruaich 2 TW

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.

Tighnabruaich 4 TW

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…

Tighnabruaich 12

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.

Tighnabruaich 9

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!)

Tighnabruaich 7

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.

Tighnabruaich 10

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!)

Tighnabruaich 1 TW

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!

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.

Oban 7

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.

Oban 6

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.

Oban 2

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.

Oban 3

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…

A quick pit-stop in Ilfracombe

Earlier this month, we headed down to Saunton Sands in North Devon to enjoy some time on the fantastic beach there. As anybody with a Labrador will know, securing adequate time on the sand and in the surf is practically essential to their (and your!) mental health and general wellbeing.

On the way home at the end of a rather long day, though, the little guys clamoured for a quick pit-stop in Ilfracombe, so that they could have a brief look at the lifeboat station there. And although we suspected that everyone would have gone home by now, we took a slight detour and headed down into the town.

While it used to be a thriving fishing and trading port, Ilfracombe is now primarily a holiday destination. But the North Devon coast remains a hazardous place for commercial and pleasure craft alike. And so the lifeboat station plays a central role in the town’s history and in its present.

On our arrival, the little guys headed straight up to the lighthouse in the former St. Nicholas’s chapel, perched overlooking the town on Lantern Hill. From here, they had a fantastic view both of the town and of the surrounding coastline.

The little guys admire the view across the town

Down by the harbour is a more recent addition to the town. ‘Verity’, a ma-hu-sive stainless steel and bronze statue by local resident Damien Hirst, was erected looking out to sea in 2012 and has been loaned to the town for twenty years. Depicting a pregnant woman holding aloft a sword while carrying the scales of justice and standing on a pile of law books, the statue is described by Hirst as a ‘modern allegory of truth and justice’.

Verity

Of perhaps slightly more interest to the Crew, though, was the station’s lifeboat station. Housing the brand new Shannon class lifeboat ‘The Barry and Peggy High Foundation’ and the D class ‘Deborah Brown II’, the boathouse is situated at the head of the slipway leading down into the harbour.

The crew look at the boathouse

The little guys were keen to catch a glimpse of the station’s Shannon, so pressed their faces tight up against the window. They could just make out the shape of the shiny new lifeboat within, as well as that of the enormous carriage and launch vehicle, which allow the boat to be launched even when the tide is out.

The crew peer through the window into the boathouse

The Crew spent a while wandering around the harbour, while I procured some ice creams and Molly (the aforementioned Labrador) enjoyed a quick run around on the little beach.

The crew in front of the station

And as the sun started to set and the time for us to head for home approached, the little guys sat on the harbour wall for one last look over the harbour and the boats sheltering within it.

The crew admire the picturesque harbour

It was only a quick visit, but the little guys really enjoyed their pit-stop in Ilfracombe. And they can’t wait to come back again, when they’ll hopefully have a chance to meet their regular-sized counterparts there and to learn a little more about the station, its lifeboats and its history on this spectacular part of the coast.

The little guys welcome ‘My Lady Anne’ to Portishead

Last Sunday was a big day for the RNLI lifeboat station at Portishead. Because it was time to dedicate and bless the station’s brand new Atlantic 85 lifeboat ‘My Lady Anne’. And there was no way that the little guys were going to miss this.

‘My Lady Anne’ had arrived on station at the beginning of the previous week and the (regular sized) crew had spent an intense few days getting to know her and learning about the new equipment on board.* Because while she is similar to the station’s existing Atlantic 75 lifeboat ‘Spirit of Clovelly’, there are a few important differences.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the new boat is just over a metre longer than the old one and can take an extra crew member. Less obviously, she has a stronger carbon fibre and foam core laminate hull, which makes her stronger. She has more powerful engines, too, which make her a little faster. And anyone who’s paying attention will see that ‘My Lady Anne’ comes complete with her own radar set – invaluable when working in poor visibility.

By the time the little guys arrived at the station, the new boat was already poised at the top of the slipway and looking resplendent in the sunshine.

The lifeboat on the carriage

The station’s crew and other personnel were also starting to gather, the crew looking particularly smart in their shirts and ties.

The boathouse

It soon became apparent, though, that there might be a launch and demonstration of the new boat on the cards. Or someone didn’t get the memo about the dress code.

The crew and spectators gather

The station’s chaplain was on hand to bless and dedicate the boat. The station was also delighted to welcome Bill Wraith, whose generous donation helped to fund the lifeboat, which is named in memory of his late wife.

Our chaplain and station personnel

Once the short ceremony – which included the now-traditional pouring of cider over the bow of the boat – was over, the crew leapt on board and everyone got ready for the launch. The little guys made sure that they had a good view.

The boat getting ready to launch

Within seconds, ‘My Lady Anne’ was down the slipway and approaching the waters of the Bristol Channel.

The boat going down the slipway

And then, with the minimum of fuss but a certain roar of two 115 horsepower outboard engines, she was off…

And they're off

The little guys, and everyone else, enjoyed a fantastic display of the boat’s – and the crew’s – capabilities. She certainly wowed the crowd with her manoeuvrability and startling turn of speed.

The crew show what the boat can do

So while the station has had to hand the ‘Spirit of Clovelly’ back to RNLI HQ, there’s no doubt that ‘My Lady Anne’ is a worthy successor. And everyone at the station – indeed, everyone in the town – is proud to have her as part of the team.

* You might also be interested to know that she was pronounced ‘on service’ on the Thursday evening and was called out to her first shout on Saturday. It’s all go here…