Row St Kilda has started

Row St Kilda crew practising

Great good luck you lot! The row St Kilda crew practising

They’ve set off – the 100-mile fund-raising row from Village bay St Kilda to Portree on the Isle of Skye in an open rowing boat built around 1890 began earlier today.

The rowers are raising funds for the RNLI and Skye & Lochalsh Young Carers. The link for donations is here; their website is here, the BBC has a story here, and track their progress here.

I wonder whether they’ll do it all again next year?

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The greatest RNLI rescues and tragedies described in a new book

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fraserburgh-1909

mounts-bay-1888 union-star-penlee-1981

Scenes of lifeboat operations clockwise from the
top: Fraserburgh; Penlee and Mount’s Bay

Lifeboat Heroes by Edward Wake-Walker is a new book that tells the stories of 16 of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s most dramatic rescues from its distinguished 185-year history.

Anyone sitting safe from a storm by their fireside when their local crew races to the station is bound to wonder how it must be on board their local lifeboat; this book should give them a clear picture.

The stories of triumph and disaster at sea are packed with personal recollections of crewmen, other emergency services, survivors, and local families who waited at home for their loved ones to return.

Newspaper articles from the time also report the devastating scenes. This is a quotation from the Daily Telegraph, 6th January 1881:

‘As the last man came I held my breath; he was alive when taken from the wreck, but had died in the boat. Four men bore him on their shoulders, and a flag flung over the face mercifully concealed what was most shocking of the dreadful sight; but they had removed his boots and socks to chafe his feet before he died, and had slipped a pair of mittens over the toes which left the ankles naked. This was the body of Howard Primrose Fraser, the second mate of the lost ship and her drowned captain’s brother.’

The earliest story is that of Sir William Hillary, founder of the RNLI, who rescued all 17 crew and passengers from the Fortroendet, which went aground in 1827. A more recent account concerns the valiant attempt at rescue in 1981, when brave Trevelyan Richards, coxswain of Penlee lifeboat was lost with his seven-man crew and all those he was attempting to save from the coaster Union Star.

Many of the incidents of outstanding bravery recounted here proved to be turning points in the history of the RNLI and the business of sea rescue in general. The wreck of the Mexico in the Ribble Estuary in 1886, when 27 crewmen from two lifeboats lost their lives, hastened the quest for powered lifeboats and gave rise to flag days and street collections. The loss of the Penlee lifeboat and her crew accelerated the development of today’s powerful lifeboats and reminded the public of the ultimate invincibility of the sea.

Edward Wake-Walker worked for 28 years with the RNLI, the final 16 as public relations director. His other books on the RNLI and its history are Gold Medal Rescues (1992), Lost Photographs of the RNLI (2004) and The Lifeboats Story (2007), and he is an honorary adviser to the RNLI Heritage Trust. He lives in Dorset.

The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea. It provides, on call, a 24-hour lifeboat search and rescue service to 100 nautical miles out from the coast of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. It is is largely a volunteer organisation – its volunteers include 4,500 crew members, 2,900 shore helpers and station mangers, and 35,000 fundraisers. The charity is independent from government and relies on voluntary contributions and legacies for its income. The lifeboat crews and lifeguards of the RNLI have saved over 137,000 lives at sea since 1824. For every copy of this book sold, the publishers Haynes will donate £1 to RNLI funds.

‘O hear us when we cry to thee, For those in peril on the sea’

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The Storm by William Miller

The Storm engraving by William Miller after Van de Velde, published in 1858.
From the Wikimedia

We’re in the midst of yet another storm here in the UK. I might have enjoyed them as a child, but now they set my mind racing, first to worrying about safety on the roads and to property such as houses and boats, and then I start thinking of those at sea, and finally the lifeboat crews who have to go to sea in a storm that’s already raging when they leave the land. It’s enough to stop me sleeping, but in the scheme of things that’s a minor irritation.

Last night I found myself thinking about grandeur and truth of the hymn For Those in Peril on the Sea.

Here are the lyrics complete with written-out music.

Here they are again with a playable midi sample.

Here The Daily Telegraph newspaper tells the hymn’s story.

For a little history, read a historical discussion of how Scottish fishermen coped with storms before the days of weather forecasts and also about how storms affected the fishing community at Polperro, Cornwall.

Again, here’s a 19th century story of heroism in the North-East of England.

I’ve also been thinking about the terror of going out onto a big sea in a small open without the benefit of a weather forecast. No doubt that spawned a host of superstitions and the slightly neurotic activity described in the song The Candlelight Fisherman. There’s a joke that some allegedly lazy fishermen wouldn’t go if the flame didn’t blow out, on the grounds that there would be no wind to carry them home, and like most jokes I’m sure it had some grain of truth.

Also, see Out on a Shout, the RNLI’s rescue activities as they happen. In case you’re wondering, there have been a lot of launches in the bad weather of this winter.

I started off by saying that we’re thinking about storms here in the UK, but I’d argue the weather is making many of us think of more than just the weather. Stay safe and stay alive, everyone.

PS – If you get a moment, print out the Miller engravings – on some nice paper, they could be just what you need to hang on your wall!

The Shipwreck, engraving by William Miller after J M W Turner

The Shipwreck engraving by William Miller after JMW Turner, published
as part of a series of 120engravings from Turner’s paintings.
From the Wikimedia

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