Celebrating love on the lifeboats: Rose and Nomi
We caught up with Crew Member Rose Skelton and her wife Nomi Stone who had their marriage blessed on Tobermory’s Severn class lifeboat last year. This is a tradition among lifeboat crews – and the first same-sex wedding blessing in RNLI history.
Rose, a magazine editor and journalism trainer, met her American wife Nomi, a poetry professor, while studying in the USA. They divide their time between Dallas, Texas, where they both teach at a university, and Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, where Rose has been a crew member since 2015.
Here's Rose and Nomi on how they met, what it’s like being part of the Tobermory crew and their blessing aboard the lifeboat:
How did you meet?
Rose: We were doing our MA together in North Carolina. It was about a week before I graduated and I had no intention of coming back to the States, I was going to stay in Mull.
My work was pretty chaotic at that point, training journalists all over Africa. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after I graduated. But then we got to know each other. I went to visit her, then she came to Mull, and she loved it. If she hadn’t, it would have been really difficult for us. It’s not an easy place to get to and everyone knows your business. I was relieved she loved it so much.
Then she got a job as a university professor in Dallas and I travel a lot for work, so neither of us can really have a fixed existence. We decided we’d somehow make it work.
Rose, how did you join the crew at Tobermory?
Rose: We scattered my grandfather’s ashes from the Tobermory lifeboat when I was about 19. He had been on the crew in the 1950s in Dover and my other grandfather had always given money to the RNLI, so it was always a big thing in our family. It was something I always wanted to do but I never thought I’d live so close to a lifeboat station. But then it happened – and then I met Nomi.
Nomi, what do you think about Rose being on the lifeboat crew?
Nomi: I know how important it is to her and I love that she can be part of that. I’ve seen her ease on that boat and the way that all the members of the lifeboat crew have each others’ backs. But, of course, I worry. There’s a Facebook group for lifeboat families and when she goes out on shouts I monitor it and see what’s going and I get alerts. It’s a combination of feeling comfort with her out there and also, each time she goes out, watching the clock and wondering what’s going on.
How have you both been welcomed by the community?
Nomi: They’ve been incredibly generous and welcoming. It’s really something to be welcomed into a community like that, a small and cohesive but also very remote and isolated community with their own world and rules and the way things function, and to be taken in. I’m an anthropologist so I’m interested in communities and the way they function, so it was a particularly special enfolding for me. It was wonderful.
Rose: Different places treat you so differently. In Mull, occasionally someone might ask me about my husband or something, but no one really cares. There so many people from away in Mull. You meet people from all over the world doing all kind of different things.
Have there been any memorable shouts since you’ve been together?
Rose: I was on a shout used in Saving Lives at Sea where we were out all night. A yacht had anchored in a loch and a really big storm had come up. The anchor was dragging and they were drifting onto rocks. I went out about midnight. It was a summer storm with 50mph winds. We were out of mobile phone coverage and I was worried Nomi would be trying to get hold of me, so I texted and said: ‘If you don’t hear from me, don’t panic’. We were gone until 6am and when I walked in through the door, freezing cold and starving hungry, she was just waking up. She didn’t even know I’d been gone. That made me realise that life just carries on.
How did you come to have your marriage blessed on the lifeboat?
Rose: We got married at the City Hall in Philadelphia and had a party but only a few of my friends came, including one former lifeboat crew. It’s a long way for everyone. But then Sam Jones, the Lifeboat Operations Manager at Tobermory, messaged us and said if we wanted to have a party in Mull – and she’d do the photographs for a bottle of whisky! Then David, the coxswain, said we should do something at the station and it went from there.
What did it mean to you having the blessing aboard the boat?
Nomi: Rose has a long family history with the lifeboats. It has always been a really special, almost sacred, space for her. It was exciting to be able to have something where Rose’s friends from the UK and her community from Mull could be part of it.
The lifeboat crew is a community and we really help each other out. Like with the oars we used for the wedding blessing, they are kept in Perth. I have a Ford Fiesta, so I didn’t know how I was going to get them. David said: ‘I’m sure that we can get them here through family love’. And the oars just arrived in Tobermory without me having to do anything.
When we have Lifeboat Day and I show people around the boat, I get a lot of young girls who come on and say: ‘I want to be on the lifeboat when I grow up’. I really try to encourage them and let them know that they can do anything and that it’s a welcoming place. It’s not even so much about being a same-sex couple – it shows women can be in a lifeboat just as much as men can.
Tell us about the shout after the blessing. What happened?
Rose: We were washing up the glasses and my pager went off. I thought it was a joke but then I very quickly realised that it wasn’t. I was really close to the station, so I ran down. It was the Saturday night before Christmas and I knew a lot of the crew were at work parties or had been at our party.
There were two people in the water and that’s really serious. Within minutes they could have had hypothermia. I started to get changed. I was still in a suit and a bowtie. But then more crew came and David, the coxswain, said to stand down, so I got dressed again and went back home.
I didn’t go out but I would have done. It takes on importance over everything else, you don’t even think about what you might be missing. If there’s someone in the water, you just go. That’s the training. You don’t just wander along and see whether you feel like it. It’s this sort of instinct we have.
Rose, what do you miss most about Tobermory when you’re away?
The lifeboat is the thing I most care about. I miss it. Everyone in the crew is tied in this strange way that’s so emotional. David Facetimes me a lot and if there’s a lifeboat party going on he’ll call me into everything. They really help me out. Last year was particularly difficult because we were going through the Green Card process in the States. My flat in Mull started leaking into the shop downstairs and I couldn’t get a plumber. In the end I called the lifeboat station and they all went round there and turned off the water and sorted it all out.
Will you stand with us this summer?
Our fundraising events have been cancelled. Our income is falling. Yet our brave volunteers, like Rose and the rest of the Tobermory crew, are still on call 24/7. Help us weather the summer storm.