On the trail of the Lizard (Part 3)

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been telling you about the Crew’s visit to The Lizard Lifeboat Station, down in the furthermost – and most beautiful – reaches of Cornwall. We’ve looked at the station and at the new boathouse, so this week we’re following the little guys around the lifeboat itself.

The ‘Rose’ is a Tamar class all-weather lifeboat. She’s just over 16 metres long, 5 metres wide and with a draught (depth below the water) of just less than a metre and a half. She’s powered by two 1,000 horsepower Caterpillar marine diesel engines and weighs a colossal 32 tonnes. She has a crew of seven and a range of 250 nautical miles.

The Crew are big fans of the Tamar class of lifeboat, having had the opportunity to look around the one stationed at Salcombe last year. Here they are admiring the view from the foredeck of the ‘Rose’.

Little guys on deck!

And here’s the view down the slipway. You can tell why the little guys were so entranced.

Looking down the slipway

While the Tamar’s main steering position is in the cabin, there’s a second one up on the flybridge. This provides excellent all-round visibility when manoeuvering in close quarters or when looking for someone or something in the water. The Crew were keen to check out the view from ‘up top’, though had to be restrained from playing with all of the switches and controls…

The Crew admire the view

With the deck and flybridge thoroughly explored, it was now time to go ‘down the hatch’ into the cabin. Mechanic Dave was volunteered to lead the way.

Down the hatch…

It was a bit dark at first, compared with the bright sunlight streaming into the boathouse through the open slipway doors. But the little guys were gradually able to make out the familiar interior.

It’s very dark inside a Tamar

The navigation station is always one of the Crew’s favourites, as they get to pore over the charts and get a feel for the local area. There was also a wide range of communications equipment, vital for keeping in touch with the Coastguard – and everyone else – when out on a shout.

The navigation area

The little guys were extremely impressed with the seats used by the Tamar’s crew. In order to provide the best protection in rough seas, the seats are extremely solid and have their own suspension system, meaning that they can move up and down by 20cm to absorb any shocks that could otherwise injure the crew. The seats also come equipped with harnesses, for when things get very rough indeed.

Now, those are some serious seatbelts

With our tour of the station and the lifeboat complete, it was now time for the little guys to say their ‘thank yous’ and to head for home. They had forgotten, though, that they had come down a massive flight of steps on their way down to the station. So the scene that greeted them as they left the boathouse came as a bit of a shock…

That’s a lot of steps

Thankfully, the station’s Mechanic Dan offered to give us a lift on the funicular railway, which operates on a set of rails up the steep slope to the top of the cliff. Our own Mechanic Dave was almost beside himself with excitement, especially as he was allowed to operate the controls.

Mechanic Dave takes the controls

And here he is ‘en route’ to the top of the cliff. Definitely much easier than climbing up the stairs. Especially when you’re only an inch and a half tall.

The easy way

We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to The Lizard Lifeboat Station. A fantastic boat, a great crew, a top-notch boathouse and a truly awesome location. A massive thank you to the station’s Coxswain Andrew and Mechanic Dan for extending us such a warm welcome. It truly was both an honour and a privilege to meet you.

The Lizard Lifeboat Station

On the trail of the Lizard (Part 2)

Having made their way carefully down the 45 metres of steps between the top of the cliff and the boathouse, the Crew were keen to get in out of the drizzling rain and the blustery wind. And it was with considerable excitement that we pulled open the entrance door and stepped inside.

Our first thought was, simply, ‘wow’. The boathouse looked fairly impressive from outside, but from inside it was absolutely amazing. The wooden roof supports curved gracefully above our heads and before us sat the station’s mighty Tamar class lifeboat ‘Rose’, poised to rocket off down the slipway at a moment’s notice.

Inside the boathouse

It was extremely quite in the boathouse and we could see no indication that there was anyone around. ‘Hello…’, I yelled, to nobody in particular. ‘Oh, hello’. A figure detached itself from the Tamar’s superstructure, paintbrush in hand. It was Dan, the station’s mechanic, who had heard that we might be popping in and was keen to meet the Crew.

After introductions all round, Dan took us to meet Andrew, the station’s Coxswain, who was at his desk in the crew room, catching up on some paperwork. The little guys were massively impressed with the crew room, with its ample work space, meeting area and small kitchen.

The crew room

Keen to learn about the station and its crew, we had a very pleasant cuppa and a chat with Andrew and Dan. And the little guys – and Molly – made themselves right at home.

The Crew make themselves at home

The view from the crew room was spectacular, looking out over the waves. Crew Member Jackie took her turn on watch, keeping an eye out for passing yachts and commercial traffic. Thankfully, although the weather was a bit rough, things were looking fairly quiet.

Crew Member Jackie keeps a look out

Dan kindly offered to give us a tour of the station. With the boathouse only having been completed in 2011 (which is practically yesterday in Cornish terms), he admitted that the crew were still getting used to things. But both he and Andrew were clearly immensely proud of their station, their boat and their fellow crew members.

Dan showed us the ‘sun terrace’ around the outside of the boathouse, an access walkway that doubles as a comfortable place to relax in sunnier weather. (Though I suspect that sunny weather and time to relax are both in short supply here…)

The ‘sun terrace’

He also showed us the crew’s changing area, where all of their kit was hung neatly, ready to be donned at a moment’s notice. The station has around 25 crew members, as well as shore crew and other volunteers. It became quickly apparent, in fact, that practically everybody living or working within a few miles’ radius of the station was involved with it in some way.

Ready to go…

However, with local employment opportunities dwindling, many members of the crew have to travel to the nearby town of Helston – or beyond – to work. This can make it difficult to manage crew availability, a situation which is exacerbated by the lack of affordable housing in the local area. It’s a problem faced, no doubt, by many stations in this part of the world. But it is a challenge to which the Lizard station has risen defiantly, with the lifeboat always being able to launch when called upon.

And don’t forget your lifejacket

From the changing room, we headed down to the slipway and to the lifeboat herself. The shiny blue hull of the ‘Rose’ towered above our heads. And I must confess to feeling more than a little nervous as I stood on the slipway in front of 32 tonnes of lifeboat.

‘Rose’

One local visitor, though, had no such concerns. This guillemot had clearly decided that the slipway offered the perfect place for a mid-morning break…

One of the locals

Having looked around the boathouse, it was now time to look on board the ‘Rose’ herself. And so it’s onto the station’s Tamar that we’ll head in next week’s blog post.

On the trail of the Lizard (Part 1)

When I was younger, I had a big poster on my wall showing all of the RNLI lifeboat stations around the coast of the United Kingdom. Their mysterious names conjured up images of the powerful lifeboats stationed there and of the tough men and women who crewed them. And none more so than an odd-sounding place right at the bottom of the country, deep in the heart of Cornwall. Its name was The Lizard-Cadgwith.

Now, as it turns out, things have changed a little since I was a lad (it was, I have to admit, quite some time ago) and the lifeboat station previously named The Lizard-Cadgwith is now known simply as The Lizard. But such changes are nothing new here, for this station in one of the most hidden-away parts of the country has quite a remarkable – and somewhat complicated – history.

The first lifeboat station in this part of the world was established in 1859 in Polpeor Cove, right at the tip of the Lizard peninsular. The location of the boathouse at the top of the rugged cliff proved problematic, however, and a disastrous launch in 1866 resulted in the loss of the lifeboat and three of her crew. Partly as a result of this, a larger boathouse – housing a larger lifeboat – was later built lower down in the cove in 1885 (or 1892, depending on who you ask). The existing lifeboat was relocated to nearby Church Cove, where a station operated until 1899.

A smaller lifeboat station had also been opened in 1867 at the nearby village of Cadgwith. (Cadgwith is absolutely beautiful, by the way. Do pop in if you are ever in this neck of the woods.) However, in 1961 a brand new lifeboat station was built at Kilcobben Cove, between Lizard village and Cadgwith, which replaced the Polpeor Cove station and, two years later, the station at Cadgwith, too. This was a complicated station to build, as the boathouse and its slipway were situated at the base of the steep cliff, just above the water. But this, at last, was The Lizard-Cadgwith lifeboat station.

But the story doesn’t end there, because the station’s name was changed officially in 1987 to The Lizard Lifeboat Station. In 2010, the existing boathouse was demolished and rebuilt to house one of the new Tamar class lifeboats. And it was on the hunt for this remote station, with its massive lifeboat, that the little guys, Natalie, Molly and I now found ourselves.

The directions we had been given were enticing. ‘From Helston, take the A3083 towards the Lizard. In the Lizard village, head for Church Cove. Park by the church and go downhill on foot. By the gate, follow the path through the cow field to the station.’ To be honest, as the roads got smaller, I started to have my doubts. But we found the church. And we found the car park. And, finally, we found the gate.

It looks like we’re on the right track…

Wandering down the track on foot, with Molly eyeing the cows suspiciously (Molly’s my dog, I should perhaps add), we were struck by the rugged and weather-battered landscape around us. The cliffs didn’t look at all friendly, which is presumably why the lifeboats around here have always been so busy. And why the seas around the peninsula have been known as the ‘graveyard of ships’.

The coastline here is far from hospitable

Suddenly, a familiar flag loomed up over the brow of the hill next to the track. It was starting to rain a little now, so we quickened our pace, confident that we had almost reached our destination.

Aha!

Or had we? For this is the sight that greeted us as we approached the flagpole. Was this perhaps the smallest RNLI lifeboat station in the UK? And what did it house? A liferaft? Er, no. This was the winch house for the funicular railway leading down the cliff to the main boathouse, perched precariously just feet above the waves.

Getting closer now

And here it is. Nestled incongruously at the base of the rocky cliff, we were now gazing in wonder at The Lizard Lifeboat Station, the latest – and possibly also the most stunning – station to serve this part of the Cornish coast.

The Lizard lifeboat station

The little guys were beside themselves with excitement at the thought of exploring such a futuristic-looking boathouse, even if there were an awful lot of steps to negotiate. But for that, I’m afraid, you’ll have to wait until next week’s blog post…

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.