The Isle of Man

Days 101-103  Mon 12 Sept to Weds 14 Sept.   It seems like an age since the last fundraising days around our southernmost British Isles in the balmy English channel. That’s probably because it was …  over six weeks ago!    Since day 100, I have enjoyed a good summer with my family and friends and caught up with much of the backlog of household maintenance & repairs in Bristol and Lowestoft.  With most people now back to work and school, (including my doubly excited grandson who is now a real schoolboy, in uniform and an expectant “Big Brother”), the time has come to tick-off the remaining Isle. That quite big one in the Irish sea. The one with three legs and a few top class pro-cyclists, including Mark Cavendish and Peter Kenaugh.   The Isle of Man.

I make no apologies for this lengthy three-day entry. With lots to report and plenty of time to write, this is the last you’ll hear for some time!

Monday. I now remember what I’ve been missing most about being on the road. It’s not just about being on the bike. It’s more about opportunities to have a good moan. So much scope for that today. Soon after getting up, but still before sunrise, my first thought of assault was on a FastTicket machine at Bristol Temple Meads. Yes it was fast, responding like a ticket clerk who’d been found dozing at his kiosk and prodded into sudden consciousness, the first couple of tickets were spat out pretty quickly. The screen then reminded me to WAIT FOR ALL YOUR TICKETS! I waited. And waited. It had clearly dozed off again. The tickets in my hand were sufficient to get me to Stafford on a Cross Country train but no further. A quick check on my booking confirmation email confirmed I had paid for a return to Liverpool Lime St., changing at Stafford. The fifteen minutes I’d allowed in a grown-up attempt to foresee the unforeseen were rapidly eaten up in a three-way debate between me, a ticket office clerk and the train manager for the 07:00 Bristol to Manchester (via my Stafford change) service. I would have to waste another 15 minutes of my time writing and your time reading this, to explain the details of my need for all the tickets purchased, including the free but “essential” bicycle reservation tickets, versus the ticket clerk’s suggestion that I buy more tickets from him at today’s premium price and claim it back later, versus the train manager’s opinion that he was running out of time for this. The latter’s suggestion that I just got on his train now and he’d give me a hand-written pass for the rest of the journey was the clear winner. With Fondo dangling vertically in the bicycle compartment of coach F, we set off at 07:00 precisely.

Four hours later, we were at Liverpool Pier Head Ferry Terminal, aboard the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s flagship Manannan, berthed alongside the very comforting view of the Titanic Memorial. With Fondo lashed to a safety rail down on the car deck I reclined in the passenger lounge above, listening to the Captain’s cheery welcome aboard announcements, warning of the gale force 7 to 8 gusts waiting for us out there on the Irish Sea.  The weather forecast had changed. Whilst the majority of the British Isles would indeed be enjoying the record high temperatures anticipated this week, the Isle of Man will remain wet and windy.  Let’s focus on something else. A quick look at the magnificent Liverpool skyline. Oh look! We’re right next to this city’s most famous landmark, the Royal Liver Building. Another monument to ships lost at sea. Or at least the cost of insuring against such maritime disasters.

Apart from the occasional rustling of paper bags, the retching of a few passengers still in search of their sea legs and the odd crash of crockery in the galley, the crossing was uneventful. As the not-so-stable-after-all Manannan lurched into Douglas Harbour, just 10 minutes behind schedule, I could see that the ride to the local All Weather Lifeboat Station was going to be a very short one.

Thanks Tony (Douglas ALB full-time Cox’n/Mechanic) and Don & Alex for the warm welcome, hot brew and guided tour of the Sir William Hillary Tyne Class all-weather lifeboat in the shelter of the old boathouse, plus the other fascinating anecdotes and local history. Sorry Tony, I didn’t get to the local Vampire’s Grave. Good luck with the plans for the new boat house and the new Shannon Class ALB.2016090912-douglas

This is where the RNLI all began. The founder, Sir William Hillary had settled in Douglas in 1808. After years of witnessing countless shipwrecks and being involved in a number of rescues, he published (in 1823) a paper “An Appeal to the British Nation, on the Humanity and Policy of Forming a National Institution, for the Preservation of Lives and Property from Shipwreck”.  The following year saw the formation of the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck . Thirty-six years later, in 1860 the NIPLS was granted Royal Charter, becoming the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, a charity in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Twenty-one years earlier, Douglas was one of the earliest places in the British Isles to be provided with a lifeboat.  One was sent here in 1802.  It was one of the 31 boats built by Henry Greathead, builder of the first lifeboat stationed on the mouth of the Tyne in 1789.

During the years 1824 to 1851 it is reported that 91 lives were rescued by the Douglas lifeboat (not included in lives rescued figures).  Sir William Hillary was awarded the Gold Medal as founder of the RNLI and won three other Gold Medals for gallantry.  His son Augustus won the Silver Medal.  One other Gold medal and 14 Silver medals were awarded.

A 16 mile, gently undulating ride along the south-east coast of the island to Port St Mary. Another cheery RNLI welcome, this time from Morgan (full-time mechanic), Mick (2nd Cox) and Martin (RNLI crew assessor, all the way from Larne).

1896  A station was established at Port St Mary by the Institution in view of the number of shipwrecks in the area.      1912  Committee decided the boat would in future be launched from the slipway and exercises with horses would be discontinued.  Gas laid on in lifeboat house for lighting and heating.

The inter-war years were not the luckiest for Port St Mary crew, especially when still ashore:

1927  An exercise was arranged for Flag Day on 6 August.  Coxswain Kneen was killed by an explosion, when he fired the maroon that was to open the event.  His wife was granted a pension by the Institution.      1937  While launching on exercise on 10 June the lifeboat skidded down the slipway and four men working the winch were thrown from the handles.  John Evans was struck by a handle and received fatal injuries.  A pension was granted to his widowed mother.

A little more recently:   2004  A Framed Letter signed by the Chairman of the Institution, Mr Peter Nicholson, awarded to Second Coxswain Michael Kneale in recognition of his initiative, leadership and first class seamanship when the lifeboat brought in the large disabled fishing vessel Paramount on 24 November 2003.

A short (2.5mile), wet dash in fast fading light across to The Falcon’s Nest in Port Erin for my first night on the Isle of Man. Thanks Morgan, for the recommendation. Good food, fine beer (Bushy’s Ale of Man) and a comfy bed.

Tuesday.  Port Erin Lifeboat Station was not the building I first thought. From a distance (about 400 yds as the Falcon flies), it couldn’t be anything else but a Lifeboat Station. Even as I approached the familiar solid old stone building with typical RNLI deep gloss painted doors, I still assumed it was. Well, it was (once) and it isn’t (now). It turned out to be an ex Lifeboat Station, now converted to public lavatories. Then I remembered, I’m supposed to be looking for a white-painted, flat-roofed, 1920s concrete block building with a small 1990s extension. There it was, just around the bend. An Inshore Lifeboat Station with an Atlantic 85 IRB. I’d contacted Paul (Retained part-time RNLI Mech) well in advance. Thanks for being there Paul, with the kettle on. It turned out to be quite a busy morning, with another Tony (ILB crew) in attendance, due to meet Martin (from Larne) for crew assessment.

Port Erin Lifeboat has, like most lifeboat stations, a long and distinguished history of many brave rescues. But I have to confess to being particularly drawn to these few monetary references.

1884  Lifeboat house constructed at a cost of £250.      1900  Slipway constructed at approximate cost of £1,000.

1970  Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain Maddrell BEM and a £5 monetary award to the coxswain and six remaining crew members for their service to the coaster Moonlight which foundered off Bradds Head in a south south-westerly gale, very rough sea and poor visibility on 9 September 1970. 

1993  The 37ft Rother class lifeboat Osman Gabriel, stationed at Port Erin from 1973 until June 1992 was sold to the Estonian Lifeboat Service (Eesti Vetelpaasteuhingu).  Funding was inevitably difficult and the British Embassy in Tallin was approached for assistance.  As a result, the Foreign Office agreed to the ambassador’s recommendations that funds would be made available to buy the lifeboat from the RNLI.  The lifeboat joins five rescue cruisers which are already part of the Estonian lifeboat service fleet.

1996  Two-storey extension to the boathouse constructed.  Facilities include a souvenir sales outlet, an office and improved crew facilities. Cost not disclosed.

2006  Slipway and boathouse adaptation completed in June at a cost of £304,408.

With the rain now more noticeable by its absence, time to leave Port Erin and head north along the west coast towards the next destination, Peel. This coastal route includes climbing “The Sloc”, considered by locals to be quite a challenge. It was. The long climb starts immediately north of Port Erin. After just a couple of miles of climbing, a lot of height had been gained. Over-the-shoulder glimpses of views back down, looking south were stunning. Worth a moments rest just before entering the fast approaching cloud base. A small, isolated memorial garden on the left, complete with bench, was too tempting. It turned out to be “Tom the Dipper’s”, the site of the cottage built by Thomas Shimmin, Poet & Baptist Preacher, aided by his wife Nell, with this inscription:            Search lovely Mona’s Isle through/You’ll find no such enchanting view/As Rushden Vale in summer hue/From the Cottage in the Heather.   20160913  The view to the south was indeed quite special, with the mid morning sunrays through broken lower clouds, spotlighting parts of the dappled low land down to the coast at Port St Mary and Port Erin, the sea itself being a full monochrome range of greys, from the most dazzling silver to dark gun-metal shadows. The reference to “..lovely Mona’s Isle..” took me back almost 50 years to my late school days in Holyhead. Mona’s Isle being Anglesey, where we used to scramble to the top of Holyhead Mountain on a good, clear day, to search for a glimpse of Ireland to the west, Snowdon (much closer) to the south-east and if we were really lucky, the Isle of Man to the north. Alas, no such reverse view of anything Welsh to the south today, apart from Fondo’s Welsh Dragon water bottle. But being only half way up this climb, maybe from the top …? Not today. Turning back to look north, my winding road climbs into the cloud just a few yards ahead. 20160913-sloc2Soon, the heavy cloud base looked set to burst at any moment. And rain it did, for the rest of the day. Up and up to the top of the Sloc. Thick fog and heavy rain aren’t often experienced together. Was I witnessing the formation of raindrops from within a rain cloud? Thankfully, the very few cars on the road were well lit and moving slowly enough to spot my hi-viz pack-a-jack and flashing led lights. The poor visibility and wet roads tempered my urge to let rip on the way back down to Peel.

Peel All Weather Lifeboat Station is another hefty, but discreet solid stone structure, nestling in to the natural rock and man-made stone walls in the shadow of Peel Castle. With its huge doors folded back, the boat house looked more like a coastal cave, the perfect shelter for its off-duty occupant. Despite its well proven ability to ride the roughest of stormy seas with its tough deep blue & brilliant white hull and secure orange superstructure, the majestic old Mersey Lifeboat looked as if it was quite happy to stay under cover on this dull, wet day. Thanks to George (relief mechanic, with a relief Mersey), Fondo & rider were very relieved to be invited to join him. Paul, the regular Cox’n/mechanic, was away in North Wales, with Peel’s own Mersey ALB, the Ruby Clery, receiving some Welsh TLC in a Conwy boatyard. i.e., the boat, not Paul.  George didn’t elaborate on that but he did make us a nice cup of tea before taking us across to The Marine, where Mickey (crew) is also the landlord. Many thanks to the Peel crew, mostly in their absence but in the good company of George, Casey and Mickey for treating me to lunch. Thanks also to Joe, who popped in to see George whilst I was at the boathouse earlier. On hearing of my fundraising efforts, Joe apologised for not carrying much cash but emptied his pockets and insisted on donating all his loose change to the cause. Who needs sunshine to brighten your day when there are the good folk of Peel to warm the cockles?20160913-peelAgain, looks can deceive when it comes to the historic lifeboat buildings of the Isle of Man. The solid granite walls and crow-stepped gable of the Peel Lifeboat Station, matching the adjacent Castle (originally a place of worship before becoming the fort of Magnus Barefoot, an 11th century Viking King of Mann), are not as old as they appear! :-

1885  Lifeboat house constructed at a cost of £500.

1992  New boathouse was constructed on the existing site of the previous house after it was found to be insufficient in size to accommodate the station’s new Mersey Class lifeboat.  The new boathouse as well as housing the new lifeboat and tractor includes a workshop, souvenir outlet and improved crew facilities.  Atlantic 21 lifeboat withdrawn and replaced with a Mersey Class lifeboat on 10 June, establishing an all-weather lifeboat station.

1995  The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was accorded to crew member Frank Horne in recognition of the courageous personal risks he took when he was transferred from the lifeboat Ruby Clery to the swamped fishing vessel Three Sisters and pulled three people to safety as the vessel suddenly rolled over and began to sink, 20 miles north-west of Peel in moderate seas on 17 October 1994

As the afternoon rain began to ease a little, the prospect of leaving the comfort of my warm, dry Marine bar stool became just a little easier to face. With the inevitable climb from a sea level harbour forcing me to spin my legs in a high gear, it was easy enough to stay warm. What I hadn’t realised earlier was that I had been cycling along part of one of the road racing circuits on the island. For motorcycles, not pedal cycles. However, it was now quite obvious that I had joined the most famous circuit of them all, the Isle of Man TT Snaefell Mountain Circuit. Much of this year’s extra TT (Tourist Trophy race) street furniture was still in place, including padded barriers, advertising banners, temporary road signs with names of familiar features and hazards, like bends and humped back bridges, around and over which racing motorcyclists have flicked and flown their machines almost every year since 1907. 20160913_153116Joining the circuit at Douglas Corner in Kirk Michael, I pedalled on through Birkin’s Bends, over Ballaugh Bridge, Quarry Bends and on to the Sulby Straight, half way along which was my bed for the night at the Sulby Glen Hotel. Thanks for the recommendation Ali (Ramsey ALB Station, tomorrow’s destination). Much quieter now than in the early summer TT season but still a good atmosphere. Walls adorned with photos & other motorcycling memorabilia, great food & drink and a very comfortable en-suite room for very little money.

Wednesday.  No rain! An earlier start, on the road by 8.00am.  Decided to go the long way around to Ramsey, heading north via St Jude’s, Andreas and Bride to the northernmost tip, the Point of Ayr Lighthouse. Having now seen most of the coastline of the British Isles, I cannot help at times, noticing similarities and being reminded of particular sections of the first 5,400 miles of coast roads recently cycled. Today, as I approached the remote northern tip of the island with the sun on the flat acres of coastal heather and bracken I was reminded of Dunwich Heath in Suffolk. Yesterday, as I crested a very high brow above cliffs on the mid western edge of this island, I thought for a moment that I had just climbed Countisbury Hill once more, where Dartmoor tumbles down over the edge of the North Devon coast. Meanwhile, back at the Point of Ayr Lighthouse, time for a couple of photos before turning south and heading for Ramsey.20160914_091547

Ramsey All Weather Lifeboat Station, home (for another year or two at most, until the inevitable Shannon replacement) to another beautifully maintained Mersey Lifeboat. This one, the Ann and James Ritchie, has just celebrated its 25th birthday. Since the establishment of the first Lifeboat at Ramsey in 1829, this station has recorded a most impressive history of saving lives at sea. A long list of some of the rescues and other events can be seen by clicking on the history tab at the bottom of the Ramsey pages of the official RNLI website. Here’s a wee taster for now:

1887  Lifeboat was out on service twice on 1 November 1887 in a sea and a storm the like of which the honorary secretary stated had not visited the coast within the memory of man.  On returning some of the ropes attached to the drogue broke because of the great strain and the boat broached to and filled.  The crew righted her and all regained the boat without loss of life.

1942  Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain John Comish for the rescue of the crew of 13 of the Aberdeen trawler Strathairlie that ran ashore on a very dark night in a strong south-south-easterly wind at Skellig Bay on 20 November 1941.  In a heavy on shore sea it was impossible for the lifeboat to get alongside the casualty so Coxswain Comish anchored, dropped down on his cable, and managed to get two lines on board the casualty, then hauled on these lines just far enough for a man to jump aboard when a sea had passed, and hauled out again on the cable before the next sea.  Thirteen times he took the lifeboat alongside the trawler in this way and was successful in rescuing the crew of 13.

1986  The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum accorded to Coxswain James Kinnin in recognition of the skill, leadership and determination he displayed when the lifeboat rescued 14 people and saved the yachts Airy Fairy, Billy Whizz and Broadaxe which were in difficulties in North Ramsey Bay in a south-south-westerly storm and very rough seas on the night of 25/26 May.20160914_105759

Thanks again to Ali (full-time Cox’n/Mech), for the tour of the Ramsey Lifeboat, the welcome cup of coffee, allowing me to play with the WW2 binoculars and for the ceremonial signing of the chart. This moment marks the 193rd and final RNLI Station to be visited around the entire British Isles …. leaving just 45 more stations and about 2,500 more miles around the coast and on the loughs of all of Ireland.

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