Lifeboats have sailed into the history books all along the Fylde coast of Lancashire.
Above: The former Fleetwood Ann Letitia Russell on the slipway of the old seafront lifeboat house before being withdrawn from service in 1976. This boat has now been brought back to Fleetwood in a derelict state to be restored by a group of enthusiasts.
It doesn’t have the craggy cliffs or rocky shoreline one perhaps more readily associates with shipwreck, but when a storm blows in from the west a ship in trouble can be forced into shallow water, run aground on the sands, and get pounded to matchwood by the waves. It has happened many times over the years and has cost the life of many a sailor.
The death toll would be much higher if it wasn’t for the work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – although some of the volunteer rescuers have lost their lives too, in a bid to help others.
Fleetwood Lifeboat Station has a proud record of service and a new book Heroes of the Waves tells the story of some notable rescue missions and of the different lifeboats that carried them out. It also reveals something of the men who commanded the boats over the years.
Before Fleetwood grew into the UK’s third biggest commercial fishing port, it was a busy cargo centre with sailing ships bringing grain from San Francisco round Cape Horn. A Victorian new town, Fleetwood always had a community of inshore fishermen working the grounds of Morecambe Bay and they have always provided volunteers for the RNLI.
Fleetwood station was established in 1858 and, in those days of wooden ships and iron men, the Fleetwood crews spent hours at sea, soaked to the skin, cold, wet and hungry. Despite the odds, they snatched hundreds of men to safety from wrecked ships in appalling conditions under sail and oar.
Heroes of the Waves shows how the design of the Fleetwood lifeboats gradually changed right through to the present Fleetwood boat, Kenneth James Pierpoint, which employs the latest electronic technology and crew facilities.
Personnel have changed too, from the traditional crew of local fishermen whose working life gave them their nautical skills, to people from many walks of life who receive training at the lifeboat station and at RNLI headquarters in Poole. Once a male preserve, the RNLI now welcomes women among its senior crew members.
Joint authors of Heroes of the Waves are Stephen Musgrave and David Pearce. Stephen was involved with the RNLI at Fleetwood for 23 years and was deputy coxswain for 12 years. David, a local journalist and local historian, wrote about the work of Fleetwood lifeboat station during a long career. He and his wife Susan were fundraisers there for 25 years.
The authors used personal experiences, newspaper reports and the archives of the RNLI to research the book, which has a forward by Captain David Eccles and Captain Peter Woodworth, two stalwarts of Fleetwood RNLI.
They commented: “There are tales of derring-do from the records, and from people involved, and one can only wonder what it takes to produce people of this character and resourcefulness. We sometimes have to remind ourselves that these men and women are just volunteers.”
Proceeds from Heroes of the Waves will be donated to Fleetwood Lifeboat Station.
Copies are on sale at £7.95 each on Amazon and from the Fleetwood Lifeboat Station shop.
Co-author David Pearce can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more from Fishing News here.