There we were, just over twenty of
us, shivering in a biting northerly wind outside a big
red and black shed set among the coastal dunes. The sea
behind us was blanketed in a mist that almost enveloped
the busy line of small breakers struggling to put on a
show. Was this really early evening in the middle of the
merry month of May? It was, but we were in the only
corner of England that had that day, and for several
before, forgotten to be sunny and warm.
It was from this shed that the old
Caister Lifeboat would have burst, sending its volunteer
crew, all but blinded by the mist, boring into one of
the most dangerous stretches of sea around our shores.
Derek George, a man who lives and
breathes lifeboats, as has his family for generations
before, completed his potted history of the origins of
the lifeboat service and let us inside. Then we heard
the remarkable story of how the newly formed independent
lifeboat organisation (the first in the country)
acquired its first inshore lifeboat after the RNLI took
Caister’s lifeboat away. It involved the local secondary
head teacher, apparently with little notice, leading his
entire barely prepared contingent of children on a
fund-raising walk to Norwich. They did it, they raised
the money and they bought the boat! It became the only
independently owned lifeboat in the country.
This was followed by the acquisition
of an all-weather lifeboat retired from the fleet into
private ownership. It had proved unsatisfactory for that
owner’s ambitions and was offered for sale. This
lifeboat proved to be a perfect solution to the needs of
the new Caister organisation, as it was the same class
as the RNLI boat they had previously operated. However,
when the first payment had to be made the crew had to
lend the charity £50 each of their own money!
We were allowed to clamber about that
lifeboat, marvelling at both the beauty of its build and
the almost total lack of protection its volunteer crew
was provided. At the same time, taking turn and
turnabout, others of us climbed the steep stairways to
find another set of volunteers - members of Coastwatch
who scan the seas looking out for vessels in difficulty.
Now, I am presuming that Coastwatch people were there,
reckoning that they would have been waiting for the mist
to rise – just in case. Later we learned that the
government’s Border Force have co-opted Coastwatch also
to look out for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.
Every morning they search the beach and dunes – looking
for clues and contraband, I presume.
Following this, we viewed the present
lifeboat. A huge and astonishing vehicle. Unsinkable,
rights itself in 13 seconds if overturned, powered by
water jets, the fastest lifeboat in the U.K. The
lifeboat, its unbelievable huge haulage tractor, the
inshore boat and the enormous shed in which they are
housed have been provided and are maintained by
voluntary donations and work. Over £180,000 is needed
every year. You really must go and see it all.
Derek had told us earlier of the
hundreds of lives that have been saved over the years by
these and earlier lifeboats. Something like two lives
for every three callouts. He ended by talking of another
cost – twenty local men who have died over the years
saving the lives of others during the recorded history
of the service still individually remembered – one of
whom was Derek’s own