Not even the rain could dampen the spirits of those who gathered at Ilfracombe Lifeboat Station on Friday afternoon. The intended outdoor event was quickly moved into the lifeboat station as it became clear that the rain was not going to cease prior to the ceremony, and over 350 invited guests, including the lifeboat’s main donor, Mr Barry High, and representative of the SLARS main donor, Mr Jon Dillet and his wife, filled the newly extended building from front to back.
Volunteer lifeboat crew and operational team members of Ilfracombe RNLI stood shoulder to shoulder in the drizzle, flanked by crowds of onlookers, during the proceedings, and led the singing of the National Anthem to begin the ceremony.
The first order of business was to officially open the new Ilfracombe Lifeboat Station. After many months of building works in preparation for the arrival of the new Shannon class lifeboat and Shannon launch and recovery system, RNLI Chief Executive Paul Boissier was honoured to perform the task of cutting the ribbon and pronouncing the facility open. Divisonal Operations Manager Tom Mansell described the changes to the boathouse, and explained that along with making the boat hall itself larger to accommodate the new equipment, the facilities for the volunteers are now improved, with a larger, more efficient kit room and crew room being among the biggest changes.
Mr Barry High, the main donor of funds for Ilfracombe’s new Shannon, then handed over the new lifeboat into the care of the RNLI. Mr High, who turned 98 less than two weeks ago, has been a fervent supporter of the charity throughout his life, and was recently awarded an OBE for his charitable works.
Mr Jon Dillet, representative of Mr Gordon Hadfield, whose legacy helped to fund the Shannon launch and recovery system (SLARS), then handed this vital piece of equipment into the care of the charity. Paul Boissier was pleased and honoured to accept both the Shannon class lifeboat and her SLARS on behalf of the RNLI, and officially handed them on to Ilfracombe lifeboat.
Chris Wallis, volunteer Lifeboat Operations Manager for Ilfracombe RNLI, and a former crew member, was given the honour of accepting both the lifeboat and the SLARS on behalf of the lifeboat station personnel. He says:
‘It was an incredibly moving moment when I stood to formally accept the new lifeboat and launch and recovery system. With all of the preparation work that has been done, all the hours that our volunteers have given to their intensive training, and having had the lifeboat officially go on service last week, I did not expect to be as moved as I was.
‘Being tasked with the care of this amazing equipment is a huge honour, and I know that every member of our team feels the same. Now that the Shannon is officially on service, and is in our care, we will begin the next chapter in Ilfracombe RNLI’s history.’
Canon Michael Rogers led the Service of Dedication, with prayers for the safety of the lifeboat and her crew, and a reading by Bob Thompson, Former Deputy Launching Authority and former lifeboat crew member, and then Mr High took centre stage once more to officially name the new Ilfracombe RNLI Shannon class all-weather lifeboat The Barry and Peggy High Foundation. He broke a champagne bottle on the aft deck, to thunderous applause from the assembled crowd.
Mr Dillet followed, naming the SLARS June and Gordon Hadfield, and pouring a second bottle of champagne over her tracks, and then it was time to launch the lifeboat for the manoeuvring display at Cheyne Beach, where volunteer Coxswain Andrew Bengey demonstrated to the crowd not only the incredible agility of the lifeboat herself, but also his own extremely high level of ability, experience and training. Speeding towards the crowd and then coming to a complete stop mere metres from the sea wall drew a gasp from everyone, and people were stunned by the way the lifeboat seemed to dance along the wall, spinning on the spot and skimming over what appeared to be barely submerged rocks.
A cream tea was offered to guests following the demonstration, with entertainment by sea shanty group Anchors Aweigh, and the lifeboat station was abuzz with people chattering about the amazing display that they had just witnessed. Speaking after the recovery of the lifeboat, Andrew was thrilled with the events of the day;
‘We are so pleased to once again have been so well supported by our community, especially given that it was raining earlier in the day when they all came out for the event. It has been an honour to welcome Mr High and Mr and Mrs Dillet and their parties to our lifeboat station, and to have them and our Chief Executive, Paul Boissier, as part of this incredible day. The stars of the day, however, are certainly the lifeboat and the launch and recovery system.
‘We demonstrated very clearly what The Barry and Peggy High Foundation, as a Shannon class all-weather lifeboat can do, in deep and shallow waters, and people were able to see exactly how much easier the recovery of the lifeboat now is, using the June and Gordon Hadfield launch and recovery system. The whole crew takes the responsibility of saving lives at sea very seriously indeed, and with these two new pieces of equipment we will be going forward with the very best and most advanced technology to aid us in that task.’
Ilfracombe RNLI would like to thank everyone who helped to make the naming and dedication ceremony a success; volunteers, staff, and supporters. Also all those who donated anything for the day, including the suppliers of our cream tea, and of course all those who support our charity in any way.
RNLI notes to editors
• Please find photographs attached:
o The crowd gathered at the lifeboat station for the ceremony. Please credit Howard Thomson
o Mr High watching the Shannon class all-weather lifeboat, The Barry and Peggy High Foundation, during the manoeuvring display. Please credit Howard Thomson
o The crowd watching and cheering during the display. Please credit Howard Thomson
o The recovery of the lifeboat on the June and Gordon Hadfield Shannon launch and recovery system. Please credit Howard Thomson
RNLI media contacts
For more information please contact Suzie Tubby, volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer at Ilfracombe RNLI, on 07961 317088 or email Suzie_Tubby@rnli.org.uk, or contact Emma Haines, RNLI Press Officer (South West) on 07786 668847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.