An Excellent Visit to Exmouth
The title of this post gives you the clue as to where I took the photo above … This particular engine, looking like a cross between a design by Wallace and Gromit and Heath Robinson, serves a very special and unique purpose.
The engine belongs to the tractor that drives the Shannon class RNLI Lifeboat at Exmouth Lifeboat station, where Shaun and I were invited to visit. The state of the art lifeboat, the R & J Welburn, is the first of its kind in the South West. It is described by the RNLI as “the latest class of all-weather lifeboat to join the RNLI fleet and the first to be propelled by waterjets instead of traditional propellers, making it our most agile and manoeuvrable all-weather lifeboat yet”.
The invitation followed my recent talk at the RNLI College at Poole during which event I met Sarah Beresford, a Youth Education Manager for the RNLI. This very personable and enthusiastic member of the team asked if we would like a tour of the station, particularly as we have recently moved to Devon and thus it is fairly local. We accepted with alacrity and last Wednesday 23 August saw us arriving in Exmouth, a place neither of us has visited before. We enjoyed a stroll along the seafront, even a turn on the big wheel to enjoy the views and lunch at a local café, before heading off to the lifeboat station.
We were made very welcome on arrival and were introduced to Steve Hocking-Thompson, who in his voluntary RNLI capacity is a Coxswain at the Station. He was our very informative guide for a personal tour of the Shannon boat.
Entering the cabin of the Shannon is something akin (I imagine) to stepping inside a space ship. Each seat has its own computer screen in front of it, and the technology is at the highest level of specification. The very air inside the cabin has an electric, futuristic feel. It smells of leather and sea and adrenalin, if you can imagine a scent for adrenalin!
Steve took us through many of the more basic functions on the screens such as the nautical equivalent of satnav, and before long our minds were reeling with the variety and scope of what is available on the boat to the Coxswain and crew when they are out at sea, whether inside the cabin or outside on the deck.
However, I found one of the most interesting aspects was when Steve said,
“When we are out on a service, I always remind the crew that despite their ability to track practically everything on their screens there is still no substitute for using their eyes to look out of the window”. This was a salutary reminder of how, historically, life boatmen used to go out on perilous rescue missions with so little to guide them, and yet they still effected many brave rescues. However, of course it is obvious that the sophisticated communications and technology are far more effective and fit for purpose.
After the fascinating tour of the Shannon and the equally interesting statistics relating to the way in which the new boat is propelled by the water, we duly admired the amazing engine and tractor that ensure the Shannon can be safely launched after crossing the sand banks along the Exmouth shoreline.
We were then introduced to Andy , a crew member and mechanic who has been with the RNLI for 21 years and who is another person who exudes enthusiasm and a vocational commitment to what he does for the organisation.
He showed us the inshore D Class lifeboat, the type of which is familiar to us from our visit to Teddington. The Exmouth boat is named George Pearman II in memory of the donor’s grandfather and Andy described it as the workhorse of the station.
The Exmouth lifeboat station itself is only five years old and we were told by the operations manager, Kevin, that it is a “vast improvement on the old Portakabins at the other end of the beach in Exmouth”. Certainly the facilities are impressive, and ethically sound, the lifeboats being washed down with recycled rainwater after exercises and service. The building is heated by a modern cost effective solar powered heat pump system.
Finally we were pleased to catch up with Sarah again who had been helping on a (fortunately successful) search for a missing child on the beach. As always with the RNLI, we met with nothing but courtesy, a warm welcome and a willingness to share information with us.
We felt very privileged to have a personal and in depth tour of the facility and the lifeboats and it is perhaps understandable that we didn’t think much about the reason we were there in the first place.
But later on as I was thinking about the visit, I realised that once again it was emphasised to me that, unfortunately, no amount of personal intervention or technology could have prevented James’s accident at the time it happened.
Sadly, his scenario is not uncommon and is another good reason for promoting increased awareness of personal safety around water. More and more this is shared by the committed work of all the organisations who reinforce the messages of drowning prevention and increase the level of education to all.
This reinforces to me the crucially important but simple message to everyone to always Respect the Water. It matters not whether you are near lake, swimming pool, reservoir, quarry, river, or ocean, the message is still the same; enjoy yourself, but remember to … Respect the Water at all times.
(Above image taken from RNLI Exmouth Facebook page)