Lifeboatmen are Human after all
by Alan D Lubber
Living near the coast of Britain you cannot escape being aware of the local lifeboat and its vital importance. The floods of last year have shown that there is a role to play inland as well. But what of the men and women who crew the rescue craft? Who are they? And what made me want to join them?
The image I always had of members of the RNLI was grizzled old fishermen and oily ex-navy stokers who together knew the sea and engines backwards.
Their fathers and their fathers before them were seafarers of old and were, in fact, all ancestors of either Kings Canute or Neptune or both! A fearsome, gimlet eyed breed; impervious to fear and salt water.
Nothing could be further from the truth (with one or two notable exceptions). Most of the crew members are local volunteers and come from a wide and varied background - joiners, teachers, ambulance men, electricians, store managers and owners, divers, car salesmen - the list goes on.
Some are fully employed and some retired. Not a super hero in sight, apart from myself, of course!
But back in the summer of 2007 I knew nothing of this. I had just turned 60, was working part time and thought I ought to put something back into the local community.
I had always supported the RNLI as a charity but I hated the sea after spending many an unhappy hour bobbing up and down in a single man dinghy with the RAF on annual sea drills.
A chance conversation with a fellow local dog walker had informed me that the Moelfre lifeboat station was always on the look out for new members and that at my age I was too old for the boat crew but could help out onshore with the slip.
Onshore....that meant....no waves...no sea sickness....therefore no problem. I could do that. What’s more, the services had taught me how to make a mean cup of tea. So with much trepidation I offered my services - such as they were - and much to my surprise was invited down for a look around and an informal chat.
I arrived at the station on the due day fully expecting the two full time RNLI members sitting outside, smoking their clay pipes and mending their nets.
Was the coxswain whittling on a fine piece of scrimshaw? Was the mechanic/engineer de-greasing his brass monkeys? No to both of those - the former was on a computer and the latter working on the satnav. Satnav? Satnav? Whatever happened to the bubble sextant?
And the boat - it had engines - two dirty great big 500 horsepower ones! Not an oar or a rowlock in sight. This surely wasn’t in the true spirit of Dic Evans or Grace Darling.
How the times had changed and none more so than the equipment. Next year, I was told, Moelfre boathouse is to get one of the latest Tamar class boats ....£2 million worth of high tech hardware and software. Obviously this 21st century technology needs 21st century skills to manage it.
However, the laws of the seas, learnt over decades, are most certainly not forgotten in this whizz bang world.
This is why once every 8 days, either the Moelfre inshore lifeboat (ILB) or the all weather boat (ALB) is launched for crew training, with additional onshore instruction on a variety of topics given every Wednesday evening.
So where do I fit in? Luckily, being over 60, I had to remain on dry land, but am able to offer 5 good years on call, working on the slip, launching and recovering the boats as the needs arise.
Glamorous it is not; greasy it certainly is. Being part of a professional team is a real thrill - knowing that people’s lives are being saved is a privilege.
The AA ran an ad campaign some time ago stating that “they were the 4th emergency service”. That is so not true - the RNLI and Coastguard are.
In my four short months at Moelfre lifeboat station I have been made to feel most welcome and useful, and if you can spare the time and have the commitment, you can be part of a great institution too.
Why not come down to Moelfre Lifeboat Station and have a look? What have you got to lose?