Cel­e­brat­ing nearly two cen­turies of self­less brav­ery at sea

The Oban Times - - Leisure -

SINCE it was founded in 1824, the Royal Na­tional Lifeboat In­sti­tu­tion has had a long and coura­geous as­so­ci­a­tion with the High­lands and Is­lands. From early open lifeboats pow­ered by vol­un­teer oars­men through self-right­ing hulls and un­sink­able craft, life­sav­ing crews have res­cued hun­dreds of ves­sels and thou­sands of peo­ple. The debt owed by those res­cued over the past 192 years is in­cal­cu­la­ble, as is the value of saved ves­sels and car­goes as­sisted to port.

To­day the RNLI re­mains a vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion ded­i­cated to sav­ing lives, and is de­pen­dent on do­na­tions for its funds. In ad­di­tion to 24-hour search and res­cue and life­guard ser­vices, the RNLI re­lies on pub­lic sup­port to meet the costs of re­search, devel­op­ment and build­ing of boats, fuel and equip­ment; and en­gi­neer­ing and ad­min­is­tra­tive per­son­nel. In 2014, run­ning costs were ap­prox­i­mately £150 mil­lion.

In Argyll and the Isles we are lucky to have RNLI sta­tions in Camp­bel­town, Rhu, Port Askaig, Oban, Tighnabru­aich and Tober­mory. The com­bined patch in­cludes in­ter­na­tional ship­ping lanes and some of the busiest and most pop­u­lar recre­ational boat­ing ar­eas in the world – a coast­line mea­sured in thou­sands of miles.

RNLI mis­sions have been launched from Camp­bel­town Har­bour since 1872. The nav­i­ga­tion around the Mull of Kin­tyre con­tin­ues to chal­lenge all craft, and haz­ards and weather have claimed mil­lions of tonnes of ship­ping and hun­dreds of lives in the past 200 years.

That these tolls would have been greater if the RNLI had not re­sponded to dis­tress calls is in­con­tro­vert­ible, and the wa­ters around Kin­tyre are nowa­days af­forded the pro­tec­tion of lifeboat crews with a distin­guished record.

RNLI in­shore lifeboat sta­tions are op­er­a­tional at Rhu on the Clyde and Tighnabru­aich in the Kyles of Bute. With 80 years of ser­vice be­tween the sta­tions, mod­ern B- class At­lantic 75 in­shore lifeboats (ILBs) are de­signed for very fast re­sponse.

They are rigid-hulled in­flat­able boats (RIBs), crewed by three vol­un­teers and ca­pa­ble of 32 knots (around 37 miles per hour) in very shal­low wa­ter. These boats are equipped with up-to- date com­mu­ni­ca­tions and elec­tronic nav­i­ga­tion aids, search­lights and night-vi­sion equip­ment. Gas-ac­ti­vated self-right­ing bags en­sure the lifeboats re­cover from cap­siz­ing in sec­onds.

An RNLI lifeboat has been sta­tioned at Port Askaig on Is­lay for more than 70 years. Tober­mory lifeboat sta­tion opened in 1938, closed in 1947 and was recom­mis­sioned in 1990. Both sta­tions are home to Severn- class all-weather lifeboats (ALBs) – fully au­to­matic self-right­ing ves­sels re­quir­ing crews of seven and ca­pa­ble of 25 knots (ap­prox­i­mately 29 miles per hour).

In ad­di­tion to state- of-the-art elec­tron­ics, the Severn- class ves­sels carry full first aid equip­ment, a por­ta­ble sal­vage pump and a small boat that can be de­ployed for res­cue op­er­a­tions in places the moth­er­ship can­not reach. Severn- class lifeboats can ac­com­mo­date 124 sur­vivors.

Oban lifeboat sta­tion was es­tab­lished in 1972. An 18ft McLach­lan in­shore lifeboat was in­tended to pro­vide safety cover from March to Novem­ber only. Six years later a Wat­son- class ALB en­tered ser­vice and cov­ered the patch with dis­tinc­tion un­til an in­ter­me­di­ate Brede- class was in­tro­duced in 1982. Fif­teen years later the Brede- class was re­placed with the new Trent- class ALB. In 2000, this par­tic­u­lar ves­sel and crew distin­guished them­selves as the first all-weather lifeboat in the Bri­tish Isles to launch on more than 100 ser­vices. Eleven years later, RNLB Mora Edith

Mac­Don­ald en­tered a new record when the first boy was born aboard.

As a re­gion with an an­cient sea­far­ing his­tory in an is­land na­tion, the vol­un­teer ser­vices and heroic ac­tions of the RNLI can­not be over­looked or over­stated. Peo­ple of­ten ask why this es­sen­tial ser­vice is not funded by gov­ern­ment.

If it was, it would be a po­ten­tial vic­tim of par­ti­san im­per­a­tives and ruth­less po­lit­i­cal point- scor­ing. If it was, the RNLI would be sub­ject to un­help­ful fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions and un­nec­es­sary op­er­a­tional in­ter­fer­ence. It would be­come de­press­ingly bu­reau­cratic and hope­lessly in­ef­fi­cient.

Long may the lifeboats and their self­less crews be driven by the fun­da­men­tal hu­man de­sire to save lives; and to as­sist peo­ple in dif­fi­culty with­out re­gard for per­sonal safety. It works, and it works for ev­ery­body.

Far right: Mull res­i­dents gather to pose for the cam­era at a char­i­ta­ble do­na­tion to Tober­mory lifeboat.

Right: Wil­lie Dunn, Alas­tair Barker, An­nette Jou­bert, Tom John­stone and D McDon­ald from Is­lay.

Alick MacLel­lan, from Oban lifeboat, demon­strates night-vi­sion equip­ment.

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