Dart to Plymouth, via Salcombe

Day 93 Sat 2 July:   The morning after the famous Welsh victory over Belgium, with Kevin’s very generous Ship Inn Dock fry-up weighing heavily on my stomach, today’s ‘big breakfast climb’ was even more of a challenge than usual.  From the deep green wooded Dart estuary, up and over more Devon hills, back down to sea level at Slapton Sands (sight of one of the worst WW2 tragedies), along the sand bar to Torcross. More hard climbing and a steep descent to another scenic river port at Salcombe, reached by a ferry from East Portlemouth, where again the fare was kindly waived. I must hang on to this Lifeboat vest. Although smaller and officially less densely populated than Dartmouth, Salcombe’s famously high proportion of ‘second home & small boat’ owners create a very different atmosphere. Tightly packed old streets with new shopfronts (more estate agents, restaurants, galleries & gift shops than cobblers, sail makers & chandlers) too narrow for today’s overflowing pavements and oversized 4×4 cars. It does however have an Atlantic B Class Inshore RIB in the old Dutch gabled boathouse and a Tamar Class ALB in readiness on the river. A confidence boosting sight for the users of the few working boats and many leisure craft sailing out of Salcombe Harbour, up Batson and Southpool Creeks, or the Kingsbridge Estuary today. A hundred years ago, things were very different. This is another Lifeboat Station with a tragic history:

On 27 October 1916 Salcombe lifeboat William and Emma capsized at Salcombe Harbour entrance drowning 13 of her crew of 15.  The crew of the casualty, Plymouth schooner Western Lass, which had gone ashore to the east of Prawle Point in a furious gale was rescued by the coastguard but it was not possible to communicate with the lifeboat.  One of the survivors from the lifeboat, Edwin Distin became coxswain of the replacement boat Sarah Ann Holden which arrived in April 1917.  A new crew of 13 was readily available in spite of the war.  Committee of Management voted £2,200 to local fund and £75 to meet immediate needs and paid funeral expenses.  The names of those who died were J A Cranham, J A Crook, J H Cove, J A Cudd, F W Cudd, A Dustin, S M Dustin, P H Foale, P H Foale (Jnr), W J Foale, W W Lambie, T Putt, and A E Wood.

Thanks Andy (Salcombe Lifeboat Mechanic) for meeting me and adding the 177th signature to the chart. A quick tea & malt loaf top-up before the last big climb of the day, on to the relatively gentle but long and winding, undulating Devon roads through the South Hams, heading west towards Plymouth, where brethren shall once more meet. And we did. And it was good. Thanks be to John Wood, a regular road cyclist, out on a Saurday afternoon spin, obliged to stop at the same red lights. The first of many junctions on approach to Devon’s largest conurbation. John clearly recognised the signs of a long distance pedaller ‘running on empty’ and on hearing a little of the scale of my quest, happily took on the role of chief guide to (and coffee buyer at) the Plymouth Barbican. Never underestimate the restorative power of a cup of strong, sweet coffee and a bit of mutual admiration cycle-babble at a cafe like Rockets & Rascals Bicycle Emporium. Re-energised, we remounted our titanium steeds and sprinted over the cobbles, around The Hoe and into the Millbay Marina Village, the site of Plymouth A&ILB Station. Thanks John, it would have taken me a lot longer to find without the coffee break and your local nouse. Your generous cash donation to The Cause was the icing on the cake.

This being a Saturday afternoon, I had not expected to meet any of the Plymouth Lifeboat crew today and had accepted Cox’n Sean’s kind offer to meet on Sunday morning, before heading off across the border into Cornwall. I had expected to meet Phil (bro) & Carol (S-i-L), my local hosts for the night, just across (and a few miles up) the Tamar in Gunnislake but I hadn’t expected such a fine reception! Thanks to P&C plus Charlotte & Mike and Colin & Jean for being there. That would have been enough excitement for one day. You really shouldn’t have staged the mock emergency in the harbour just to get the full attention of the local Lifeboat crew. Thanks Sean M (2nd Cox’n) for signing the chart today, saving Sean O’K the job of turning out on a Sunday morning. It was good to meet some of the crew today, at this most historic station, now sited in the old octagonal granite Custom House.

Plymouth was one of the first places on the coast of Great Britain to have a lifeboat.  This was one of the 31 boats built by Henry Greathead of South Shields, the builder of the first lifeboat on our coasts, which was stationed at South Shields in 1789.  The first Plymouth boat was stationed here in 1803.  She was a gift to Plymouth from Philip Langmead MP.  There is no record of her service.  The Royal National Lifeboat Institution itself was founded in 1824.  It at once placed at Plymouth Captain Manbys mortar apparatus for firing lines to ships in distress, and in the following year it sent a lifeboat.

Devon done. Cornwall, here I come.

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