Tyne Passes Bye, When You Are Saving Lives At Sea
She was the very last Tyne class lifeboat in service throughout the whole of the RNLI fleet.
As RNLB Annie Blaker and her dedicated crew approached Portishead, the Portishead lifeboat My Lady Anne launched to welcome her to her final destination before being sold on to a private owner. Retiring after 30 years’ service, it was emotional.
Where do you start to write about the legend that is Annie Blaker? With 408 lives saved whilst out on her 350 service launches, that is certainly a history to be proud of. Going to the unknown in big seas off of the coast of Wicklow, Ireland, Annie always bought her volunteer crew home safely. Sometimes the outcome wasn’t always a happy occasion, all the families wanted was to get their loved ones back, for the 408 lives she saved, it was the happy ending they wanted.
So, when the call came in, ‘H (Helen), do you want to meet Annie and her crew at Barry Dock, they are bringing her in to Portishead? It’s the last time she will be afloat as an RNLI rescue vessel?’ It was a no brainer, of course I did, a chance to go afloat on an all weather lifeboat is a chance not to be missed. But my first time at sea as an RNLI volunteer would soon prove to be one of the biggest honours I could have.
Lifeboat Press Officers don’t go to sea, why would we there is no need, is there? I signed up as a volunteer 15years ago to support a charity close to my heart and knowing I wasn’t brave enough to go to sea as a crew member, I thought I could help to tell the amazing stories about how our crew volunteers help others in their most distressing and often desperate times. ‘Supporting and giving back to the community is what it is all about’ they say. When I went to sea on Annie Blaker it bought home just how the crew feel about their charity, the rescue vessels that they care for, and the people they save.
I met the Wicklow crew at 7am at Barry Dock Lifeboat Station on Saturday morning (4 May), it was an early start to get there from Portishead. The crew walked in to the crew room and each one politely introduced themselves. Ciaran, Tommy, John, Tommy and Paul, gave a warm and friendly welcome to someone they have never met before and it struck me straight away, that this is the RNLI way, you are part of the family so you must be ok. But I could feel the emotion in them straight away and I had only just met them, it dawned on me right then, that instant, this was not a jolly, it was an end of an era...
As is always with me, the camera came out. Do I take a picture of this? Will I be allowed out there? I don’t want to get in the way, this was their last time with Annie, should I even be here? Am I going to embarrass myself and feel sea sick? All sorts of things were racing through my mind. Being a bit nosey I quietly asked about their time with Annie.
Ciaran, 2nd Coxswain actually collected the brand-new Annie Blaker from Poole in 1989 and took her all the way to Wicklow, how must he be feeling now taking her on her last leg to Portishead? He smiled and recalled a couple of rescues that held fast in his memory. ‘H, there are so many stories, where do I start? We get some big seas to deal with off the Irish coast, no doubt about that. Pulling fishermen from the brink of death from their sinking vessels is always a relief. But one of the most memorable rescues was when we launched to a windsurfer who had smashed his shoulder on his rig, the weather had turned, he fell in the water. He had been holding on to his board for a long time, he told us he had made peace with his maker as he slipped under the surface of the water for the last time. Then, he heard Annie coming. The roar of her engines is an unmistakable sound. He thought ‘there is someone there’, and somehow managed to push himself back to the surface, we were able to pull him aboard. He was in a pretty bad way, it was fantastic to be able to reunite him with his family. That was a good day. There are so many stories I could tell you, but there was one thing we always knew we could rely on. Annie, she always got us home, what ever the weather. Today is a hard day, like saying goodbye to one of your children.’
Tommy, 3rd Mechanic, crew member for 13years, ‘It has been an honour and a pleasure to have been a part of the crew on Annie Blaker. A huge thank you goes out to Brendan Copeland (Mechanic for 30 years) for all of his effort, time, dedication and patience he put in to training me to look after such an amazing vessel, I owe him so much.’ Brendan couldn’t come across with the crew, it was hard for him to say goodbye to Annie, she has been a massive part of his life for so long. A lifeboat that all the volunteers and crew relied on for 30 years, he knew every bolt, dial and sound.
‘What’s all the fuss about’ said a member of the public to one of the crew at the Lifeboat Station in Portishead. ‘That is Annie Blaker, she is retiring after 30 years’ service with the RNLI in Wicklow. She is the last Tyne class all weather lifeboat in service, this is her last time at sea as an RNLI rescue vessel’ said the volunteer. ‘Why did you launch? What’s the point?’ The volunteer smiled and walked away politely. Some people won’t get it I suppose.
Spending time with the Wicklow crew made me appreciate that when you are part of the RNLI family, no matter what you go through and how long you have been a volunteer, it’s not about being brave in their eyes, it’s about giving back to the community. They don’t want the glory, the fuss, the praise, that’s just what they ‘do’. Supporting each other, working as a team, when the lifeboat gets back late in the middle of the night, or you’ve missed another family occasion as the pager goes, it’s about working together as a team. Mending her, refuelling her, cleaning her, caring about her and most of all making sure she is safe to go to sea for all the volunteers and casualties when they need her most.
658 photos later, we had crossed the Bristol Channel and were closing in on Portishead. It was a wonderful to see so many people there to welcome Annie Blaker and her crew into the marina. I didn’t feel sea sick, not once. My deepest thanks go to the Wicklow crew, my new friends, on allowing me to share their precious last few hours with their Annie Blaker. These words that are said to command her release on the slipway as she launched will stay with me forever as they are said for last time aboard the legend that is RNLB Annie Blaker,
'All clear, let’er go…’
Notes to editors
All images are ©RNLI Portishead, unless stated otherwise
RNLI media contacts
For more information please telephone Helen Lazenby, RNLI volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer on 07800 595 995 or contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.
For more information on the RNLI please visit rnli.org. News releases and other media resources, including RSS feeds, downloadable photos and video, are available at the RNLI News Centre rnli.org/news-and-media.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,200 lives.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.