Day 92 Friday 1 July: It took a moment to get my bearings in Exmouth. No problem finding the new Lifeboat Station, the only building on the beach side of Queen’s Drive. But where have all the sand dunes gone? Apparently the once carefully preserved dunes have been completely blown away, devastated by the storms of a couple of winters ago. There is now a neat new stone retaining wall along that section of the sea front, all the way from the Lifeboat Station to the Esplanade.
Many thanks to Emma, the Lifeboat Press Officer and Andy, Station Mechanic, for the welcome and full tour of the new Shannon in it’s fine boathouse. A great improvement on the old harbour arrangement. This station has an impressive record of service over the last 200 years, with one particularly unfortunate period causing pause for thought. The dangers and challenges of responding to a shout can begin well before the lifeboat is on the water:
1938 Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was accorded to Coxswain Thomas Horne for the launch on 15 January. At 0530 a report that rockets had been seen off Lyme Regis and it was decided to launch the motor lifeboat Catherine Harriet Eaton. A gale was blowing from the southwest against the spring ebb tide, making a very heavy sea in the bay. A big bank of sand had formed on the beach and this and the heavy seas made the work of launching extremely difficult. Thirty-two launchers took part, the Honorary Secretary and Honorary Treasurer of the station wading out to encourage them, and it was not until the fourth attempt that the launchers succeeded in getting the lifeboat underway. For six hours the lifeboat searched in the gale, but could find no vessel in distress. She returned to station at 1345.
1952 Lifeboat signalman Samuel Gifford fell from his bicycle when answering a service call on 6 July and sustained severe bruising and abrasions. He went on service but on returning was taken to hospital and later had a stroke. He died on 25 December 1953. His wife received an allowance from the Institution until she died April 1980.
1953 Crew member P S Gifford was fatally injured en route to a launch.
The first few Devon miles were a lot easier this morning, following the safe, flat cycle route along the River Exe estuary, via Star Cross and Dawlish, parallel with this famous section of the main railway line. The image remains, of the dangling rails over the huge void, the embankment battered & washed away by the same storms that took away Exmouth’s sand dunes. With the route quickly restored and reinforced the Penzance trains still run along this dramatic coast, beneath the red cliffs, through cuttings and tunnels. Sadly, bicycles aren’t allowed to use the same route, so it’s up&over a couple of big climbs before rolling all the way back down to sea level at Teignmouth. The ILB Station here still uses the original solid stone boat house, now home to an Atlantic 85 RIB, slightly quicker than the original boat placed on service in here in 1851. Thanks Peter, for the cheery greeting and coffee. Thanks also to someone I’d already met a few hundred miles back, on the Norfolk coast at Wells-next-the-Sea. Great to meet you again Morgan, on your own Devon patch.
Time for another ferry ride, this time courtesy of ex LB crew member Reg, still a lifeboat launch tractor driver and now ferry operator from Teignmouth to Shaldon Beach. Thanks Reg, for the complimentary ride on the fine old boat. Back on the roller-coaster road up & over to Torbay, via Torquay (still no herds of wilderbeast, as imagined by Basil Fawlty), Paignton and on to Brixham Breakwater, the location of the current Torbay ALB Station. Mark, the Station Mechanic explained how there were once two lifeboats covering the wide expanse of Torbay. The resources were rationalised and the current Severn and a D class now cover an even bigger stretch of coast. One more big climb up and over the headland, down to the beatiful setting for the Kingswear Ferry across to Dartmouth. The Dart Steam Railway still operates along the east side of the river. Rob, the Dart Lifeboat Ops Manager remembers Falmouth GWR Station, the only railway station in the country that never had a train at its platform. Passengers started their journey by getting on to the original steam boat to cross the river to the steam train.
HUGE Thanks to Rob and Kevin (LB crew and Landlord of the Ship Inn Dock) for helping to make this a most memorable visit to a beatiful old town, steeped in maritime history and this evening, the setting for my witnessing on live television, the most glorious moment (so-far) in the history of Welsh Football, In the company of some fine figures of Welsh (plus a couple of English and one Dutch) men and women. Cheers Kevin, Mike, Scratch, Alana-Myfanwyy, Sam and Saskia and a couple of young Royal Navy Officers. As my brother John so eloquently summed up the performance in his text message, “Cymru am Byth”