The little guys meet the Penlee crew (Part 2)

In last week’s blog post, we talked about the Crew’s visit to the Penlee lifeboat station in Newlyn, Cornwall. I may even have mentioned that the little guys got to play with the station’s gigantic Severn class lifeboat ‘Ivan Ellen’. And I promised you that this week I’d tell you more about the station’s two lifeboats – and show you some more photos of the Crew. So here goes…

As I mentioned last week, the Penlee Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat ‘Paul Alexander’ is berthed on a sort of floating pontoon in the harbour, from which she can be launched and recovered quickly and easily. Like all lifeboats of this type, she has a crew of three, a top speed of 32 knots and a range of two and a half hours. She can also carry a whopping 20 survivors.

Now, if you look at the photo below, you’ll possibly notice that there’s not huge amounts of room for the boat to reverse off the pontoon. However, the Penlee crew are way ahead of you here. Attached to the far outermost corner of the pontoon is a chain, which the crew can pull to move the rear end of the pontoon around so that the stern of the boat is pointing out in to the clearer bit of the harbour on the left of the photo. Much easier…

The station’s Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat ‘Paul Alexander’

Moored right next to the ‘Paul Alexander’ is the ‘Ivan Ellen’, the station’s 17 metre Severn class all-weather lifeboat. Despite weighing 42 tonnes, she is self-righting and has a top speed of 25 knots and a range of 250 nautical miles. She is powered by two 1,250 horsepower Caterpillar marine diesel engines.

The Severn class lifeboat ‘Ivan Ellen’

For the little guys, who are of course only an inch or so high, the ‘Ivan Ellen’ is even more massive (comparatively speaking) than she is for the rest of us. They spent some time standing on the boat’s foredeck, just getting a feel for the immense scale of everything and of the sheer physical bulk of the lifeboat. When the RNLI calls the Severn an ‘all-weather’ lifeboat, they really do mean it.

The Crew check out the view from the foredeck

The Crew were also fascinated with the comings and goings in Newlyn harbour. Both literally and metaphorically, the harbour forms the heart of the town of Newlyn, which boasts the largest fishing port in England. If fishing’s not your thing, the town also has a thriving creative arts scene, with an established colony of artists and art galleries. And for the nerdy among us, Newlyn is used by the Ordnance Survey as the datum point for mean sea level.

And admire Newlyn’s busy harbour

The ‘Ivan Ellen’ carries a small inflatable ‘Y boat’ on her upper deck, which can be lowered into the water using the crane that you can just see on the right of the photograph below. You can also see the upper steering position, which affords improved visibility when looking for a casualty or when manoeuvering the lifeboat alongside.

On the aft deck

In the main cabin, there are dedicated seats and work stations for each member of the lifeboat’s crew. The little guys also met the boat’s own mascots, who have been assembled over the years and are now an established part of the ‘Ivan Ellen’s’ crew.

The Crew with the lifeboat’s own mascots

The boat’s navigator has all manner of modern technology at his or her disposal, including an electronic chart plotter. Despite this, however, paper charts were still very much in evidence. (Which, to a Luddite like me, is always rather reassuring.)

At the navigation station

The boat also has a number of CCTV cameras mounted around the side of the superstructure, which can be controlled from within the cabin. These allow the crew to see what is going outside (which is a bonus when the weather is awful and there is rain bashing against the windows) and to record footage for later review.

And with the remote-controlled camera system

As if that wasn’t enough, the main cabin is only the ‘upstairs’ part of the ‘Ivan Ellen’. So with more than a little trepidation, the Crew headed ‘downstairs’ into the bowels of the boat…

What lies beneath…

The first thing that they came across was a clean, tidy and surprisingly airy cabin with several rows of seats. This is the survivors’ cabin, where people that the lifeboat crew have plucked from the water can be kept safe and secure while the boat returns to base. The Severn can take up to 28 survivors without impacting on her ability to self-right, and a massive 124 if necessary. Although she won’t then self-right. And, to be honest, I’m not sure where they would all stand. Everywhere, I would imagine.

The survivors’ cabin

The lower cabin also contains various bits of kit that the crew might need, such as this stretcher, scrambling net and spare personal protective equipment. As you can see, it’s all stored incredibly tidily, so that it is ready for use at a moment’s notice.

Even in the depths of the boat, everything is still incredibly tidy

Aft of the survivors’ cabin is a walkway through the engine compartment. This is where the two 1,250 horsepower diesel engines are housed and it really does look the business. Each engine is about the size of a small horse. But, obviously, 1,250 times more powerful.

Towards the engine compartment

Mechanic Dave was absolutely in his element down here with the engines. He stood there for some time just staring, but thankfully we managed to extricate him before he could tinker with anything.

Mechanic Dave checks out the two 1,250 hp diesel engines

Back in the main cabin, the Crew stumbled upon what is perhaps the most important piece of kit. Yes, its the kettle. I remember when I was little and used to accompany my Dad on some of his lifeboat inspections, that the highlight of my day was when I was allowed to use the water heater on the boat to make myself a cup of hot chocolate. There were these little ‘maxpax’-type cups with the hot chocolate powder already in them, and all I had to do was peel the foil lid off and (with supervision) add hot water and stir.  Mmm… heaven!

The most important piece of kit…

And that, sadly, brings to an end our tour of the Penlee lifeboats. With the little guys by now starting to get a little tired and fractious, we headed back up to the crew room for a quick cuppa with the station’s regular-sized crew before setting off for home. We’d had an amazing time and it had been a real honour to learn more about the Penlee station, its boats and its crew. A massive ‘thank you’ to Patch, Elaine and the crew for making us feel so welcome.

The little guys meet the Penlee crew (Part 1)

So let’s clear something up. Penlee lifeboat station is not, in fact, in Penlee. It’s in Newlyn, on the western edge of Mount’s Bay in Cornwall. There isn’t even a town called Penlee. The station’s called that because it used to be sited on Penlee Point, just outside the nearby village of Mousehole, and it moved to Newlyn in 1983. But the Penlee lifeboat has such a long and honourable history that there’s simply no question of changing the name.

The Crew visit Penlee lifeboat station

There has been a lifeboat in this part of Cornwall since 1803, before the RNLI was even formed. There have been various boats and several different stations over the years, with the move to Penlee Point taking place in 1913. This was still in the days of ‘pulling (i.e. rowing) and sailing’ lifeboats. The station didn’t get its first motor lifeboat until 1922.

But the Penlee lifeboat station is perhaps best known for the awful tragedy that befell its boat and crew in 1981 when, during an attempted rescue of the crew of the coaster ‘Union Star’ in hurricane-force winds, the eight-man crew of the lifeboat ‘Solomon Browne’ – and the crew of the ‘Union Star’ – were lost to the sea.

The current lifeboat station looks very different to the tiny boathouse that still clings to the edge of Penlee Point. The small station building stands proudly on the top of the harbour wall, with the two modern lifeboats waiting patiently at their pontoons below. It was quite daunting, really, to visit a station with such a distinguished history, but Coxswain Patrick ‘Patch’ Harvey, press officer Elaine Trethowan and members of the crew instantly made us feel right at home.

The station building

With the station’s all weather Severn class lifeboat ‘Ivan Ellen’ and its Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat ‘Paul Alexander’ both berthed in the harbour, the station building houses the crew room and changing area (as well as a workshop and gift shop). Coxswain Patch explained that all members of the crew are trained to operate both boats, so they simply race to the station and get kitted out for whichever of the two boats (or both!) are called upon to launch. And with the crew living and working locally, the boats can be under way in as little as six minutes from the pagers going off.

The crew’s all-weather kit ready to go

Walking around the station, there were constant reminders of its history of long and distinguished service to the saving of lives at sea. A memorial stone to the lost crew of the ‘Solomon Browne’ sits proudly in the entrance hall. And in the crew room, a modest plaque commemorates the fact that this service earned Coxswain Trevelyan Richards the posthumous award of the RNLI’s gold medal.

Pictures of the station’s various lifeboats – and there have been a lot over the years – decorate the walls of the crew room. This reminded me of a poster I had on my own wall when I was a kid, showing the station’s magnificent Arun class lifeboat ‘Mabel Alice’, which served at Penlee for 20 years from 1983 to 2003.

And don’t forget your lifejacket

The crew get to the lifeboats via a metal walkway, which leads down onto the pontoons in the harbour. Even tied up alongside, the massive Severn looks extremely imposing and exerts – it seems to me, at least – a sort of calm authority. A benign presence that says ‘Don’t worry. I’ll not let you down.’ Coming into any harbour and seeing that familiar orange superstructure is, I’ll admit readily, one of my favourite sights.

Penlee’s Severn class lifeboat ‘Ivan Ellen’

The Atlantic 75 used to be housed in a separate boathouse at the edge of the harbour, but now has its own floating pontoon from which it can be launched more easily and more quickly. Interestingly, it seems that the station’s old launching tractor – called Kevin, by the way – is soon to move up to my own station of Portishead, which is about to be adopted by the RNLI, to launch our very own Atlantic 75!

And the Atlantic 75 ‘Paul Alexander’

The Penlee crew are currently raising funds to build a brand new station. The new building, which will be constructed on the site of the existing one, will provide valuable additional space for the crew (so that they can all get changed at the same time, for example), their shore helpers and the station’s fundraisers. The Crew were keen to help out and if you’d like to help, too, you can find out more here.

The Penlee crew are raising funds to build a new lifeboat station

Having looked around the station and learned more about its history, its boats and its crew, it was time now for the little guys to check out the boats themselves. But we’ll get on to that – and loads more photos of the Crew at Penlee – next week.

A busy weekend for the little guys

It was a big weekend for the little guys, with visits to the Penlee, Newquay and Lizard lifeboat stations. We’ll be bringing you pictures and stories from our visits over the coming days and weeks, but in the meantime here are a few photos of the Crew ‘on station’. Just click on any photo to go to the full gallery.

A big thank you to everyone at the three stations, who made us feel so welcome during our visits. It was great to meet you all and we look forward to sharing some of the amazing stories you told us.

A festival of light in Mousehole

The Crew have been spending a lot of time in Cornwall recently, so they were keen to check out one of the most spectacular sights that the county has to offer at this time of year: the Mousehole Harbour Lights*. And with forty separate installations, twenty strings of lanterns, over 7,000 bulbs and more than five miles of cable, it was most certainly worth the visit.

We arrived just before dusk, about half an hour before the lights were due to be turned on for the evening. And as we wandered around, it became apparent just how nice this tiny fishing village is. It has tiny streets, tiny houses, a few tiny shop and galleries… and an extremely tiny harbour. It seems to be mostly a tourist destination now, full of second homes and holiday rentals, but has a strong maritime past of which any port would be proud.

Mousehole at dusk

As the last rays of sunlight disappeared below the horizon, the lights across the village started to come on. A few chains of coloured lights at first…

The lights start to come on

… and then some of the individual installations that were stationed on the harbour itself and across the village.

Three ships appear in the harbour

Soon, the village and the hills around it were ablaze with festive lights. Neither the Crew nor I (nor my wife nor the dog) had seen anything like this before, and we were all a little stunned.

The 'Merry Christmas' lights

It was easy to see how we as a species have evolved to use light to ward off the darkness and the shadows that it contains, especially at this time of year, when the nights last so much longer than the short days.

Lights coming on all over town

Like many of the other visitors to the village, we had to stand by the harbour for some time, just to take it all in. Look out for the ‘Mousehole cat’ in the picture above.

The harbour ablaze with light

The little guys were quite taken by the lights, too, and by the general festive atmosphere of the village. It could so easily have become a kitsch affair, but somehow it had managed to maintain an air of dignity and community spirit that just made us want to hang around and enjoy the atmosphere.

The little guys enjoying the lights

A few hundred metres offshore from the harbour lies St. Clement’s Isle, which was decked for the occasion with a huge illuminated Celtic cross. This helped to add a sense of spiritual solemnity to the proceedings and served as a reminder of the role that the sea has played in the history of this most rugged of counties.

The celtic cross

With the day of our visit being the anniversary of the loss of the local Penlee lifeboat, we decided to take a walk along to the old lifeboat station. The station at Penlee Point, just on the edge of the village, was opened in 1913. But on this fateful night in 1981, during an attempted rescue of the crew of the coaster ‘Union Star’ in hurricane-force winds, the eight-man crew of the lifeboat ‘Solomon Browne’ – and the crew of the ‘Union Star’ – were lost to the sea.

Lights across the bay

Although there is now a new lifeboat station along the coast at Newlyn**, the old station is still maintained as a memorial to the lost lifeboatmen. And as we reached it, a large illuminated cross shone out from the building’s roof.

The old lifeboat station

With the harbour lights themselves being dimmed for an hour as a mark of respect to the lost crew, this served as a stark – yet oddly uplifting – reminder of the risks that our brave lifeboat crews face every day. And a fitting memorial to their sacrifice.

* The name of the village is pronounced something like ‘Mowzl’.

** Though it is still the ‘Penlee lifeboat’.