The man with the camera seemed to know a bit about lifeboats. We were standing on the dock at Whitehaven harbour, watching as a lifeboat was hoisted out of the water. I hadn’t known that was due to happen: I’d seen the lifeboat moored down below the harbour wall earlier, and now as I walked back that way it was rising up into view.
I waited behind the barrier. A man in a hi-vis jacket told me it was going to Poole “on the back of a truck, it’ll get there in a day that way!”
The man with the camera came over. “It’s going to Poole” I told him, knowledgeably.
“It’s going to be sold,” he said. And soon Bob McLaughlin, for 11 years the volunteer operations manager at Workington RNLI station, and now Chairman of its Management Committee, was telling me many things about this Tyne class boat. I am very grateful to him for assuming – correctly – that I would want to know.
When the mobile hoist had carried the lifeboat across the dock road to a bay to wait for the lorry, he led me round the boat, showing me the two holes in the keel at bow and stern where ropes could be attached to pull the boat up a slip.
“You see she’s got a white bottom – that shows she’s a general-purpose boat. She can be housed on a cradle, go down a slip, or stay afloat.” Red-bottomed lifeboats are moored afloat all the time.
The Tyne class boats were built to last about 15 years: this one, RNLB Hilda Jarrett, is 24 years old and she will be taken to RNLI’s HQ at Poole to be sold. Previously boats have been sold as far afield as China and Canada. Of the 40 boats in the class, “only six or seven remain, and they’ll all be away in the next 18 months.”
Originally she was kept at Baltimore in Southern Ireland.“Did you see she hasn’t got a name on her stern, it just says ‘Lifeboat’? That’s because she’s been used as a relief boat” – for example as a temporary replacement for a local lifeboat that is being repaired – from ports as varied as Douglas Isle of Man, Port Patrick, and even the Isle of Barra. A new relief boat, the RNLB Robert and Violet, had arrived at Whitehaven a couple of days previously.
I commented on the easily-recognised and well-loved livery of dark blue, red and yellow, and Bob laughed. “The RNLI wanted to change the colours but there was an outcry. And you see the number on the bow? 47-024 – that’s the length in feet, and she’s number 24 in her class. They wanted to change the feet to metres …”
He took me round to the stern and we looked at the propellors (which had a few white limey tubes of the marine worm Serpula on them, but were otherwise clean) and saw how they were protected by the structure of the hull, so as not to get damaged on a slipway. And there were two circular hatches, way underneath, which can be opened to allow for cleaning weed from the propellors. “You can do it from inside, you hang down into the tube – it’s a good way of getting seasick!”
Also at the stern were twin metal flaps covering the exhausts, and two vertical cylindrical structures, which I then saw were attached to flat plates with keels; they would be hydraulically-operated to change the trim of the boat as it gained speed, to prevent its bow lifting too high out of the water.
Workington RNLI’s general-purpose lifeboat is another Tyne-class boat, 47-028, the Sir John Fisher; the Facebook page notes that “it is the only davit launched alb [all-weather lifeboat] owned by the RNLI.” I remembered looking into its boat-house when I was at the Port of Workington.
When the Sir John Fisher is de-commissioned, they will receive one of the new, faster Shannon-class boats that have been designed specifically for the RNLI.
The Workington lifeboat crews have always played a very important role, both during the Carlisle and Cockermouth floods and in saving lives at sea. In West Cumbria we are all very aware of the important work they and all the other lifeboat crews do, entirely voluntarily.
As I write this, lone kayaker Nick Ray is working his way 2015 miles (“2015 in 2015”, and Twitter @LifeAfloat) around the Scottish coast, aiming to visit every Scottish RNLI station in order to raise money for the charity. He started from Kippford, and has enjoyed a couple of Solway sunsets, as well as strong winds and bumpy seas. Let’s hope his only encounters with the RNLI on that long trip are all entirely social affairs!
My thanks again to Robert McLaughin, OBE; and any mistakes in my account of meeting him and number 47-024 are entirely my own. It was a chance encounter, in the rain, for which I had been unprepared – and which made my day!