Lifeboat crew past and present, dignitaries and members of the local community came together on 10 June, 2017, to celebrate 150 years of lifeboats at Bembridge RNLI, reports Nicholas Leach.

Above: Lifeboats parade at Bembridge to celebrate the station’s 150th anniversary.

Members of the lifeboat crew and guild and their families, the local community, past members of the crew and relatives of a number of past coxswains congregated outside the ILB house at 12pm for the ceremony.

The celebration began with a service of thanksgiving, conducted by the Honorary Chaplain to Bembridge RNLI, the Rev Dr Amanda Bloor. RNLI trustee Mike Sturrock presented a 150-year Vellum to the station, which was accepted by John Keyworth, Lifeboat operations manager, and the Lord Lieutenant for the Isle of Wight and president of the Isle of Wight Lifeboat Board, Major General Martin White CB CBE JP, unveiled a commemorative plaque to mark the occasion.

At the end of the event, coxswain Steve Simmonds was recognised for his 30-year service to the RNLI, with the award of a long service certificate by Michael Sturrock. He has been coxswain of Bembridge lifeboat since 2003, and has overseen the major upgrade to facilities that the station has witnessed during the past few years, with a new all-weather lifeboat station, a new 16m Tamar and a new inshore lifeboat house all being completed between 2009 and 2013.

At the end of the ceremony, and when everyone had enjoyed some refreshments sponsored by the John Lewis Partnership Sailing Club, Bembridge lifeboat Alfred Albert Williams (16-17) and inshore lifeboat Norman Harvey (D-778) put to sea, together with lifeboats from Yarmouth, Portsmouth, Hayling Island and Selsey for several sailpasts at varying speeds and in different formations, much to the delight of the crowds that had gathered both at the boathouse and on shore. It was a spectacular end to the event.

RNLI trustee Mike Sturrock (left) presents a 150-year Vellum to Bembridge Lifeboat operations manager John Keyworth.

The first lifeboat at Bembridge arrived in 1867, when a boathouse was built at Lane End at a cost of £165, and this has been the location of the station ever since. The pulling and sailing lifeboats were launched by carriage, drawn and handled by manpower. Several self-righting pulling boats served the station until 1922, when a new boathouse and slipway were built for the station’s first motor lifeboat, Langham. To reach the new boathouse, a concrete pier almost 200 yards in length was built from the shore to the outer ridge of rocks that form Bembridge Ledge. At the seaward end of the pier, a platform was constructed on concrete piles, with a concrete, timber and steel launching-slipway, extending to the deep water outside the reef.

Following the construction of the new facility, the single-screw motor lifeboat was delivered to the station, and was named Langham after the donor. The new motor lifeboat extended the range of the station, which led to the closure of lifeboat stations at Ryde, Atherfield and Brighstone and later, in 1937, Brook.

Further improvements to the boathouse were undertaken for subsequent motor lifeboats until, in 2009, the RNLI decided a new Tamar-class lifeboat was to be placed at Bembridge. This required the demolition of the boathouse and walkway, and a completely new station was built, from which the lifeboat can reach 90% of all casualties within 30 minutes of launching, at any point within 10 miles of Bembridge, in any weather.

The new boathouse and 174m walkway were completed by October 2010, at a cost of £7.65m and the new £2.8m Tamar-class lifeboat Alfred Albert Williams became operational on 10 October, 2010. She was named by HRH the Princess Royal on 10 August, 2011.

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