St Davids lifeboat station and its volunteers enjoyed a double celebration on 14 March, 2017, with the naming of the new 16m Tamar lifeboat and the official opening of the new boathouse, reports Nicholas Leach.

More than 200 dignitaries, invited guests and lifeboat volunteers were in attendance as the station’s £2.7m Tamar-class lifeboat Norah Wortley was named on one of the biggest days in the station’s 148-year history.

St Davids’ new state-of-the-art £10m lifeboat station, which took two years to build and is situated in one of the most remote corners of the Welsh coastline, was also officially opened by Michael Vlasto, retired RNLI operations director. Dozens of past and present lifeboat crew from decades of saving lives at sea in St Davids were on hand to help see in the new era.

The new Tamar-class lifeboat was funded by the generosity of Diana Symon, of Newton Abbot, Devon, who died in 2010. Her legacy, as well as donations from her charitable trust, funded the 25-knot lifeboat, which was named in memory of her mother Norah Wortley-Talbot. Mrs Symon’s grandparents were owners of the Blue Funnel shipping line, based in Liverpool, and were part of a nautical family. Mrs Symon and her sister Phoebe spent much of their early lives sailing with the Blue Funnel line, and in later life Diana Symon and her husband enjoyed sailing their own yacht.

St Davids RNLI

St Davids lifeboat crew during the naming ceremony.

St Davids volunteer crew members are already familiar with the lifeboat as it has been launching to emergencies from a mooring off the old boathouse since April 2013, while the new station was under construction. She had launched 63 times on service up to the time of her naming, helping to rescue 50 people and save four lives.

During the ceremony, with music from Goodwick Brass Band and Haverfordwest Male Voice Choir, Linda Grafton, a long-time friend of Diana Symon, formally handed over the lifeboat Norah Wortley over to RNLI operations director George Rawlinson. He then passed her to Captain James Wilcox, lifeboat operations manager at St Davids RNLI, who accepted her on behalf of the station and its volunteers. Champagne was poured over the bow as Mrs Grafton officially named the lifeboat at the end of proceedings.

Michael Vlasto, former RNLI operations director, declared the new boathouse open by unveiling a slate plaque crafted by former St Davids lifeboat coxswain, Malcolm Gray. The new station, which is situated around 100m from the historic former boathouse at St Justinian, represents a major feat of engineering, being built at the base of some of the St Davids peninsula’s most remote coastal cliffs.

As well as the slipway for the Tamar-class lifeboat, the new boathouse accommodates the smaller D-class inshore lifeboat. The facilities include a drying room for kit and better provision for crew training and equipment maintenance. There is better access to the station, which is important for the delivery of equipment and, more importantly, for the evacuation of casualties brought in by the lifeboat.

St Davids RNLI

Norah Wortley passes the Angle Tamar lifeboat Mark Mason and the 47ft Watson-class lifeboat Joseph Soar, which was on station at St Davids between 1963 and 1985.

Matt Crofts, RNLI lifesaving manager, said: “This was among the most ambitious build projects the RNLI has undertaken in recent years. Primary contractors BAM Nuttall, and everyone else involved, deserve huge credit for finding ways to get the job done in some of the most challenging environmental conditions. We hope this building is something of which the St Davids RNLI volunteers, the local community and the whole charity can be proud. It will ensure the legacy of lifesaving, to which so many generations have dedicated their lives, will continue for many more generations to come.”

Funding for the lifeboat station project came from a number of generous donations, including a local community fundraising appeal, which was fronted by former Welsh football and rugby internationals Ian Walsh and Gerald Davies and raised more than £214,000.

After the ceremony, Norah Wortley was launched from the slipway for a short display in the bay. Also in attendance at the ceremony was the 47ft Watson-class lifeboat Joseph Soar, which served St Davids from 1963 to 1985, as well as the former Angle lifeboat, 46ft 9in Watson Richard Vernon and Mary Garforth of Leeds; both of these lifeboats are in private ownership and retain their original lifeboat appearance.

In addition to the historic lifeboats, operational lifeboats from Little & Broad Haven and Angle stations were on hand to support their flank station’s celebrations. Angle lifeboat is one of the earlier 16m Tamars, Mark Mason, which has been in service since 2009, while Little & Broad Haven is served by a D-class inshore lifeboat. Norah Wortley was the 27th and final 16m Tamar-class lifeboat to be named and serve in the RNLI fleet.

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