Day 68 Tues 17 May. The shortest distance between two points is in a straight line. The shortest distance between two Lifeboat Stations is between Cullercoats and Tynemouth, today’s first and second ports of call. 2.6 miles by bicycle. Two very different stations. For those of you still not sure about the difference between an Inshore Lifeboat Station (ILB) and an All Weather (offshore) Lifeboat Station (ALB), today brings an ideal opportunity to illustrate:
The first, an ILBStn at Cullercoats has a very handsome old gabled red brick building with solid wooden folding boathouse doors, overlooking a clean sandy cove. It’s Inshore lifeboat is launched by a high tech powerful tractor unit which pushes it down the slipway, over the sand and into the sea. Typical calls come from stranded souls around sand banks, young people literally out of their depth, in difficulty around piers and breakwaters, small boats with mechanical problems etc. One of it’s less typical recent jobs was the recovery of two vehicles: a large van caught out by an incoming tide and a Range Rover used by a member of the public in a failed attempt to rescue the van. The Lifeboat itself wasn’t needed. The crew used the semi submersible launch tractor. Thanks Curtis, ILB Crew, for meeting me early this morning before dashing off to work. A reminder that almost all ILB crew members are unpaid volunteers, most of whom have other jobs.
In contrast, the second port of call at Tynemouth is an All Weather Lifeboat Station based at the fish quay in the mouth of the Tyne in a 1990s building. They operate a large, Severn Class ALB, kept afloat at its sheltered birth. They also have a D class Inshore Rescue Boat, partly for up-river work. Typical shouts in recent months include the towing in of a trawler or yacht with loss of power and the dramatic rescue of the cross Tyne ferry adrift in a gale. Many thanks to full time Cox’n Michael for the advice on various options for crossing the Tyne, which include cycling into Newcastle city and crossing the Tyne Bridge, taking the ferry, or using the pedestrian tunnel. Alternatively, the offer to take part in a short exercise involving the rapid transfer of a stranded cyclist was accepted without hesitation. Within a very few minutes I was standing on a South Shields slipway waving goodbye. Thanks Michael, for making my day!
Following the coastal cycle route, keeping the sea on my left, Sunderland was soon reached. A smart new ILB Station in the marina, all securely locked up with not an RNLI member in sight. I had made contact and been warned that no current crew members were available. All were away or at work. But no worries. I had also been informed that one crew member worked at the Marine Activities Centre, right next door. Sure enough Ian, ILB Crewman was the first person I saw in the building. Thanks Ian, for allowing me to distract you from work and for your valued autograph upon the hallowed chart. This is another tidal estuary station close to a big bridge, this one spanning the Wear. More very tragic tales, with accounts of traumatic recoveries almost as frequent as successful interventions or rescues.
A final 27 mile stretch to Hartlepool, including the first long (but gradual) climb for some time. The terrain was beginning to feel less flat. Hartlepool ALB Station is quite well hidden in a more industrial setting. Having spotted a Mersey Class lifeboat at berth in the marina, alongside expensive yachts, I spent a while looking for the boathouse nearby. Then I in remebered, the Hartlepool Lifeboat is a much taller Trent. After 3 contradicting pointers from friendly folk, the Coastguard then sent me back in the right direction, towards some huge cranes and down a rough track. Many thanks to Gary(FT Cox/Mech), for the welcome offer of a very comfortable base for the night, including the breakfast bacon roll and to Mark (crew) for all the help establishing the next wave of contacts and the lengthy discussions ranging from education battle scars to digital aerial photography.
It’s becoming quite clear that, for many, if not all Lifeboat people, being part of their “other” family, i.e. the crew, is as important to each of them as they are to the fishing and boating community they serve.