Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Historic Lifeboat Display

" They that go down to the sea in ships and do business on great waters" owe a lot to the volunteer crews who have, since the 19th Century, manned the lifeboats and lifeboat stations around the British Isles. These men and women put to sea in conditions that make experienced seamen go pale and they do it in small craft performing a huge task.

The RNLI uses boats designed to be vitually unsinkable. They can capsize, but are self-righting, they can be swamped, but remain afloat and drain the water out of themselves. Modern boats are powered by twin diesel engines specially adapted to the punishing task that is demanded of them, but, as the picture on the right shows, in the early boats there was a need to make use of sails as well. Look back to the earlier boats - some in use well into the 1930's - and you find that they were powered by oar. Many of these were launched into surf from specially designed cradles - and the shore party doing the launching were usually the wives of the crews.

An example of one such boat is shown on the left. Horses pulled the boat on its cradle to a beach near the wreck or distressed ship, then the crew climbed in and the "launchers" got to work, often walking neck deep into the surf to get the boat away. The closed sections at each end of the baot in the picture are flotation tanks which also serve to assist in righting the boat should she be capsized.

From the 1950's onward the boats have become both larger and more powerful and the self-righting more sophisticated. The bravery of the crews though, remains the key to the success of their service.

The picture on the right is of one of the larger boats from the early 1950's. Her crew spaces are enclosed and provided shelter for the rescued victims below decks though the crew and the coxswain in particular, remained exposed to the elements. The modern boats can be seen on the RNLI's website and on Wikipedia. They have fully enclosed helm positions, are fully self-righting and considerably faster than their predecessors.
As the Psalmist says, "These men see the works of the Lord, and his wonders of the deep." If you are looking for a nice smooth and comfortable trip around the bay - a trip to sea in one of these boats is probably not for you! By the same token the men who do take these boats out in response to any call for assistance deserve our respect and our support.

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