Day 63 Friday 6 May: Many thanks to Scott(Mech) at Broughty Ferry for the welcome, for looking after Fondo overnight and for being incredibly helpful. Your ability to make instant contact with the right person at the right time is most impressive. Thanks also for the Broughty Ferry Lifeboat book. In more than one sense, this one is heavier going than most. Looking into the history of this very busy lifeboat station, yet again we find tragedy. “On 8th December 1959 the lifeboat Mona, first stationed at Broughty Ferry in 1935, was launched to the help of the North Carr light-vessel that had been reported broken adrift. Weather conditions were exceptionally severe with a strong south-easterly gale blowing across the entrance to the River Tay. Certain navigational buoys had been driven by the atrocious weather from their positions. In the early hours of the morning the lifeboat unfortunately capsized and her crew of eight were drowned…”
The more I look into the history of individual lifeboat stations, the more I realise that tragedy on such a scale was not that unusual. Lifeboats were not all self righting. They did not have the benefit of a big engine (or two) to speed them to and from a stricken vessel. One rescue could (and often did) take well over a day. They did not have the benefit of global positioning via satellite. The crews’ equipment did not offer the same degree of protection. Does this mean that a modern day rescue mission is safer and easier? Like an irritating BBC political correspondent, my answer is yes, and no. It is a very different game. In terms of improved kit and boats being more stable and inherently self righting, yes, it has to be safer. In terms of the number and types of ‘shouts’, the difficulties associated with an increasing population of casual, unskilled water-borne leisure & pleasure seekers plus a propensity for too many intelligent beings to use high bridges or clifftops to seek permanent escape from the mental stress or strain of twenty-first century living, then no, it cannot be easier. Many of these calls for assistance are too late for rescue and become a gruesome case of search and recovery. Here at Broughty Ferry on the north bank of the Tay, close to one of the country’s biggest, longest bridges, is the busiest Lifeboat Station in Scotland. When asked how busy they’d been this year Scott replied ” just the two shouts yesterday”.*
But one particular challenge for lifeboat crews past, present and future remains. The power and unpredictability of the stormy seas around our very long, ragged coastline.
Meanwhile, back on the road towards Dundee, over the aforementioned very long Tay Bridge (the toughest bit being the lugging of a heavily laden Fondo up a few short flights of steps onto the shared pedestrian cycle path along the centre of the dual carriageway, the lift being out of order), via St Andrews (just a bit bigger and much more famous than my home district of St Andrews, which according to Bristol City Council doesn’t exist anyway) and on to Anstruther. Thanks Alec (mech) for popping down to meet me, signing the chart and pointing me in the direction of Scotland’s best known fish& chip cafe before dashing off. Thanks also to Barry (the ILB Helm and various ALB crew roles, who caught me sitting on the warm, sunny steps of the Lifeboat Station, eating the award winning fish & chips) for the tour of the boat house and the very kind memento in celebration of the Anstruther Lifeboat Station’s recent 150th anniversary.
On to the final destination of the day at Kinghorn, where the ILB Station is tucked safely in the corner of a very picturesque, small bay. Here I met Alan (LOM) hoisting a big new RNLI flag. He was replacing the ragged, winter-worn one in time for tomorrow’s big fund raising event. It wasn’t for me. Thanks also for the very kind offer to spend the night in the crew room above the boathouse. Nothing personal Alan, I was delighted, but the second offer, a comfortable bed and hot power shower at John & Pam’s house just above & behind the LB Station had the edge. I am growing very fond of the genuine, kind people involved with this wonderful Institution.
*Since writing the above, I have heard that Broughty Ferry has launched both their Inshore and All-weather Lifeboats seven times in reponse to Tay Bridge area call-outs in the last six days.