Great Uncle Floaty, born with a caul

Great Uncle Floaty at the foot of the lookout steps Broadstairs

This photo taken at the foot of the steps of the lookout at Broadstairs belongs to my old pal Pete Stockwell, and shows his Great Uncle Floaty with what look like a lifeboat crew.

Floaty was himself a lifeboatman.

His nick-name ‘Floaty’ came from having been born with a caul – a remnant of the amniotic sac that is present in one in 80,000 births, and which by legend is supposed to mean the baby will never drown.

Perhaps he was photographed in his suit in honour of his being un-drownable. True to the superstition, poor Floaty didn’t drown but came to a sad end when he was crushed between two barges on the famous ‘starvation moorings’ near Deptford, some time in the 1920s. (During the Depression, many barges were kept on the moorings during periods when there was no work for them.)

That lifeboat crew at Broadstairs were hugely important and the lookout lists ships whose crews and passengers that they aided; the small town and harbour is opposite the famous Goodwin Sands, which have swallowed hundreds of ships over the centuries. There’s some material about the lifeboat on the Wikipedia page about Broadstairs, which remarkably includes a reference to Great Uncle Floaty himself!

It also references a ballad written in the 1850s about a then-famous rescue: Song of the Mary White. So who knows the tune folks used – or a really grand one to match the song’s theme?

Thanks Petie!

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