The Channel Isles

Days 98 to 100  Thurs 14 to Sat 16 July: At last. After a few postponements in recent weeks, we’re clear to go. This is no solo effort. Not just cycling. First, I have to get there. Super Fly-Bro Neil has spotted a clear, three-day weather-window ahead. A crack-of-dawn, cross-country dash to the ex WW2 RAF Finmere airfield near Bicester, where Sportcruiser G-CFNV is based. Re-fuelled and ready to fly.   [NB  – must remember to top-up this key-pad with hyphens]

More magical moments in the air. Heading south, above the many shades of green and pleasant land. A few small candy-floss clouds at our altitude. Just enough to play with, not enough to obscure views of landmarks. Oxford spires, Didcot Power Station (soon to be demolished), Winchester Cathedral (Bowdy-O-Doh, not to be confused, as I was, with Mouldy Old Dough), Southampton, Isle of Wight and many miles of clear blue sky over clear blue water. In a small, single engine, white & pale blue aircraft. Worried about engine failure? Not really. Been there & done that years ago. This motor’s as smooth as a smooth thing. Same cool, capable pilot. Different, better aircraft. Mind you, that was a few hundred feet above a huge, flat field. This is a few thousand feet over open sea. Something to occupy the mind, focus attention on the array of gauges in front of me and the potential rescue boats below. Pressures, temperatures and levels AOK skipper. A busy shipping lane below. Ditching drill. I don’t recall a bored stewardess pointing at doors and dangling an oxygen mask before take-off. Neil reassures me he’d aim for a point ahead of the smallest vessel, rather than a huge tanker or ocean liner that would need half a day’s notice to stop and turn around. Life jackets & harnesses secure. Remember which clasp to unbuckle after ditching. Rumour has it, this rigid, low wing, metal skinned light aircraft should stay afloat long enough to allow us to open the canopy and climb out onto the wing. Assuming that is, that this pilot manages to gently and slowly ‘air stall’ onto flat calm water, maintaining the structural integrity of G-CFNV. Must quickly erase that black & white image of a badly aimed Kamikaze Zero hitting the ocean at 300 mph, a few feet short of its targeted battleship.  An ironic concern: Have I raised enough money to cancel out the average cost incurred for one RNLI Lifeboat launch & rescue?  No worries,  Land Ahoy!

Russ, the solution to the problem of being all kitted out, with the exception of a bicycle (no room in a two-seater cockpit), who runs Pedal Power bike shop in St Helier, Jersey’s main town, met us at the airport.  A moment of sadness, missing Fondo, which soon passes when a black & yellow Boardman carbon fibre road racing bike is wheeled out and passed to me. Most bike owners instinctively feel the need to lift a new racing bike off the ground, usually with one little finger, then laugh incredulously at its feather-weight properties and make a ridiculous comment on its comparative weight. Sadly, I am no exception to this strange behaviour. This complete bicycle weighs about the same as the extra pair of yellow socks I rejected from my panniers on the grounds that they were unnecessary extra weight. Neil is equally impressed with his bicycle for the day, a Swiss BMC light alloy racer. Considerably lighter than his own well sprung, bouncy hybrid but I notice a slight tinge of concern as my brother eyes the narrow racing saddle, drop handlebars and combined brake/STI gear shifters. Hot on the heels (or back wheel) of Russ as he guides us through the surprisingly busy town, to our first stop in the harbour, St Helier Lifeboat Station.

1825  Gold Medals were awarded to Francis De St Croix, Jean De St Croix, Philip De St Croix and a Silver Medal to Philip Nicholle for rescuing 13 people from the ship Fanny on 9 January. Five people drowned.       1940  During the German occupation of Jersey in 1940–1945 the station was not under the RNLI’s control; it was reported that the lifeboat, with a crew of German guards, had rescued 35 people.      1948  A new lifeboat, the first to have a deck cabin, was sent to the station and placed on moorings in the harbour. A German-built bunker on Albert Pier was taken over and converted for the crew      1995  The Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum was awarded to Coxswain Robert Vezier for rescuing 55 of the 307 people onboard the passenger catamaran Saint Malo, which had struck a submerged object and was sinking in rough seas off the Corbiere lighthouse on 17 April.

Thanks to Rhees (St Helier Station Mechanic) for the kind welcome, coffee and brief chat before we had to dash off. The plan now slightly modified to fit in with a BBC Jersey radio interview back at this venue this afternoon, so no time to waste if St Catherine  ILB Station is to be visited today. Back on the road, we three cyclists (almost enough to make up a mini peloton) set off at a pace not too fast to take in the coastal scenery but fast enough to reach St Cat’s, spend the right amount of time there and get back to St H in time. I must commend my not-so-regular cyclist brother for:  a) maintaining the pace set by Russ, a serious road-racer and    b) coming up with a clever scheme to linger longer at St Cats with Nigel (LOM) and Andrew (Sen.Helm), thus avoiding the stitch & cramp inducing sprint back.  St Catherine’s Inshore Lifeboat is one of the more recent RNLI Stations.

1969  The RNLI established an inshore lifeboat (ILB) station with a D class lifeboat and the ILB was housed in an old wartime bunker in the cliff.   1989  Trials were carried out in October using a B class Atlantic 21 lifeboat and a DoDo (Drive on-Drive off) launching trolley.    1990 The C class lifeboat was withdrawn and an Atlantic 21 lifeboat was sent to the station on 15 October.     

1991  An old farm building was modified to provide crew facilities and accommodation for the Atlantic 21 lifeboat and launching tractor.

1994 In darkness on the night of 1 January the ILB crew rescued a surfer who was clinging to his board in strong winds and driving rain off Plemont. The Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum was awarded to Senior Helmsman Nigel Sean Sweeny and Framed Letters of Thanks were awarded to Crew Members Paul Richardson and John Heyes.  HRH The Duchess of Kent presented these awards during a visit to the island on 31 October.    1995  The Walter and Elizabeth Groombridge Award was awarded to Senior Helmsman Nigel Sweeny and Crew Members Paul Richardson and John Heyes for the above service on 1 January 1994

The mad dash sprint back to St H was a bit quicker than my usual touring pace, helped by the unladen Boardman bike and by draughting Russ for 90% of the ride, with little more than a fag paper’s gap between my front & Russ’s back wheel. Good job Russ never uses his brakes.The Charlie McArdle live-streamed video & radio interview seemed to go well (who am I to judge?). The planned back-drop of the big orange Tamar Class St Helier Lifeboat was made all the more dramatic by its absence. Five minutes before I returned, Rhees and crew had received a shout, called on emergency service to assist a yacht in difficulties, drifting towards semi submerged rocks on an ebbing tide. Which meant that James, the LOM (Lifeboat Operations Manager) was now on site, having dashed down to authorise the launch. So much for the relaxed, slower pace of life expected on the Channel Islands. At least we could now take the rest of the day off. Bikes returned to Pedal Power, where we watched the last dramatic moments of Stage 12 of the Tour de France, witnessing the never to be forgotten image of Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux, all kitted out, with the exception of a bicycle. Then on to The Harbour House in picturesque St Aubin, our destination for the evening. Many thanks again to Russ, who was able to join us for dinner at The Muddy Duck and entertain us with his very convincing conspiracy theories related to the world of Pro-Tour Cycle Racing. Now I know how he managed to accelerate away from me on the last hill with no effort and why there was an extra little switch on the gear selector.

Friday 15 June: A day of Island hopping. Another thank you, this time to Graham, fellow guest at the Harbour House, for the lift back to the Airport. A short flight to Guernsey, where we were met by Carl (St Peter Port LB Mechanic) with two bicycles, his own plus one belonging to Buz (St PP Cox’n). This time, of the mountain bike variety. No mountains on Guernsey but I’m not complaining. I wasn’t sure how pleased Neil was, to discover that he too would be cycling again today. Within less than a mile I found out, when my bicycle suffered a rear tyre blow-out. Neil’s gallantry and quick-thinking was faster than Geraint Thomas giving up his bike for Skye Team Leader, Chris Froome in this year’s TdF. Before I knew it, I was on his bike and Neil was in the team van with Carl. How selfless was that?

Not as busy as St Helier, but still much more traffic than expected on Guernsey. St Peter Port Lifeboat, a Severn Class ALB was eventually located in the main harbour. Many thanks to Carl and Buz for the welcome, the 187th signature, the refreshments and loan of the bikes.

1803  The first station on the island was established at St Sampson’s with a lifeboat built by Henry Greathead

1940  During the Second World War St Peter Port lifeboat went to Jersey to meet with the St Helier lifeboat as both were to be evacuated to England. On the way she was machine-gunned by three German aircraft and a member of the crew, the coxswain’s son, was killed. Both boats fell into German hands.

1963  The RNLI’s highest accolade, a Gold Medal, was awarded to Coxswain Hubert Petit, Bronze Medals to Motor Mechanic Eric Pattimore and John Petit for rescuing the nine crew from the motor vessel John Collett. Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum were awarded to the remaining members of the crew.

2008  The lifeboat rescued the crew of three of the fishing vessel Guyona on 24 June.  The service was initiated by the activation of the RNLI’s new and unique MOB Guardian system, and this was the first use of the system in a real emergency.

2009  A Framed Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman of the Institution, Admiral the Lord Boyce GCB OBE DL was awarded to Coxswain Anthony White in recognition of his seamanship, boat handling skills and determination during a service in the early hours of 5 October 2008.  The large sail training vessel Alva had suffered a fouled propeller and rudder.  Despite south-westerly force 7 to 8 winds, gusting at times to 45 knots, 6 to 9 metre seas with a 7.5 metre swell a tow was established and the Alva brought to the safety of St Peter Port.  Coxswain White’s crew received a collective Letter of Appreciation from the Chief Executive in recognition of their teamwork and efforts.    2010  Her Majesty The Queen, honoured Coxswain Buz White in her Birthday List by making him a Member of the British Empire (MBE).

The last, but not least (just smallest) of the three main Channel Islands to be visited is Alderney. A lot smaller, a lot quieter, with very little evidence of modern development. Many thanks to Brian (Station Mechanic) for the great welcome to your fine island. A place to escape from the high speed pace of life, with great beaches, wild-life reserves, fascinating historic sites, all within walking distance. Many islanders however, do have a car. Seat belts and MoT tests are not required. Following the ceremonial 188th signing of the chart and the praising of the Alderney Trent Class Allweather Lifeboat in Braye Harbour, Brian took us to the local inn, The Divers. Here, a fellow Clan member was waiting to meet us. The Lifeboat Operations Manager, Braye Fishmonger and general pillar of the community, all rolled into one character – David (Bugsy) McAllister. A few other crew, young & old, were also introduced. A great atmosphere, enhanced by good company and well kept draught beer (and ice cold soft drinks for those crew members on standby).

1869 Alderney Lifeboat Station established. Lifeboat house constructed at a cost of £235.

1876  The stone quarry in which the lifeboat house stood was being reworked and a new one was being opened not far from the front of the boathouse.  The working of the latter, it was feared, would considerably damage the roof of the boathouse.  Great inconvenience was caused in launching the boat on account of the rails that were laid down on the way from the boathouse to the slip on the breakwater where the boat was launched.  The Assistant Inspector reported that he thought a better site for the boathouse could be obtained near the Arsenal on the other side of the harbour.    1877  Difficulty in getting the contract for moving the boathouse owing to scarcity of labour.     1884  With the difficulty in obtaining a crew, as so many fishermen had left the island, the lifeboat station was closed and the lifeboat was transferred to St. Helier.

1984  A 33ft Brede class lifeboat Foresters Future sent to station in January and placed on service on 10 March for a 12 month operational evaluation period.    1985  The Duchess of Kent officially opened the station on 10 May.  She presented the Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum to Mr John Kay-Mouat, President of the States of Alderney,  for the life-saving work carried out by private boats in Alderney during the 100 years in which there was no lifeboat on the island.

1992  Bronze Medal awarded to Helmsman Philip Murray and a Framed Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman of the Institution awarded to each of the two crew members, Francois Jean and Wayne Chandler, for attempting to save a girl, even though the inshore lifeboat was severely damaged, after two girls and a man was swept into the sea at the Fort Clonque causeway on 9 August 2002.  The inshore lifeboat saved the man.  Crew member Mark Gaudion and Station Honorary Secretary David McAllister rescued the girl by crossing the causeway to reach her despite the strong pull of the tide.  They were tied to a line held by policemen and others.  They were both accorded the Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum

Weds 16 July: Back to Blighty, via a fascinating detour to Cherbourg, where the occasional fox and hare enjoy playing chicken, trotting and bounding out from the cover of unmown airfield grass across the large tarmac runway in front of landing aircraft. As caught on video.

Thank you so much big brother Neil, for making these islands an unforgettable part of the big adventure. Thanks also to Russ of Pedal Power for the loan of the amazingly fast, lightweight bikes and being such a great local guide. And of course, huge thanks to all the awesome RNLI crew members on these Isles for such a great welcome. A privilege to meet a good number of you between shouts around the notoriously treacherous waters surrounding these islands.

I hope you’re all watching the BBCTV (Weds evenings) series Saving Lives at Sea. If not, catch up on iPlayer.

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