Thursday 23 November 2017

Farewell, brave Hilda Jarrett, and welcome home Alan Massey

The lifeboat has been at the very heart and soul of Baltimore for generations, writes Louis Jacob

Louis Jacob

In Baltimore, west Cork, at 2pm last Wednesday, a changing of the guard took place. On a crisp and bright day, a choir of children from the local school sang Phil Coulter's Home from the Sea on the pier, where a crowd was gathering in a hum of giddy expectation.

The village itself was decked in nautical bunting and an armada of local boats headed out to welcome Baltimore's new lifeboat, RNLB the Alan Massey.

In a village such as Baltimore, it doesn't really get more emotional than this. The lifeboat has been at the very heart and soul of everything that Baltimore is for generations.

It really is so much more than just a rescue service. You'd need every page in this newspaper to catalogue all the rescues which have been carried out and medals for bravery which have been awarded down the years.

Of course, there have been the notable ones such as the Fastnet Race disaster in 1979 when the Baltimore lifeboat helped to prevent an even more tragic outcome.

Or in 1991 when the lifeboat spent 26 hours at sea in gale force conditions and performed two separate rescues without returning to dry land: a feat which earned coxswain Kieran Cotter 'The Maud Smith Award for the bravest act of life saving in 1991'.

Or in 1985 when Charlie Haughey was rescued after his boat struck Mizen Rock in thick fog.

In reality, rescues are what it's all about. But there was so much about what Baltimore means on show at last Wednesday's welcoming party for RNLB the Alan Massey. When you looked around, you realised that somehow every face you saw would be involved in the lifeboat in some capacity or another.

Whether on the frontline as crew of the actual vessel or as slip crew or as fund-raiser or organisers or anything else that needs to be done, everyone in Baltimore is somehow involved and everyone takes it personally.

When you saw village seniors such as Richard Bushe and Youen Jacob heading down to the pier together to give the new vessel their valuable seal of approval, you realised just how much the lifeboat is ingrained in the fabric and history of the place.

The Baltimore lifeboat was put in place as an idea in 1915, when a lifeboat house and slipway were erected for the sum of £2,765. This building, which is still in operation today, was the very first reinforced concrete building in Europe.

However, due to the outbreak of the First World War, the building lay idle until 1919 when Baltimore received delivery of its first Royal National Lifeboat (RNLB) the Shamrock. This vessel had initially been named The Duke of Connacht but this was changed for reasons of political discretion.

This was the first of six boats which have served out of Baltimore over the years. The new boat makes it seven.

The RNLB Alan Massey is the proverbial beast of a boat ... a design reminiscent of a stealth aircraft and at 16.3 metres is an absolute phenomenon to behold at full power. Twin engines which can generate up to 1,000 horsepower each have the ability to drive the Tamar class vessel on to a top speed of over 25 knots.

This is a remarkable pace especially when compared to the 18 knots top speed of its predecessor, RNLB the Hilda Jarrett, certainly no slouch herself.

With a maximum range of 250 nautical miles, all this power and speed will be of huge benefit to any future rescues. Like all lifeboats of the modern era, the Tamar class has the ability to self-right in the event of capsize.

The vessel is also equipped with an array of state-of-the-art communication and navigational equipment which allows crew members to perform most of their tasks whilst safely strapped in their seats, an imperative safety feature in turbulent seas.

Poignantly, the €3m Alan Massey is so named due to the generosity of Dorothy Massey of Watford in England who died in 2003 and donated her entire estate to the RNLI on the agreement that a lifeboat be financed and named in memory of her brother who had a keen interest in sailing.

And being assigned to Baltimore lifeboat station, the Alan Massey is expected to fill some serious shoes. Outgoing vessel, RNLB Tyne Class, the Hilda Jarrett, has served Baltimore and the Cork coastline since 1988. In those 24 years, the Hilda Jarrett has been launched 356 times and has saved 346 people from distress at sea.

Most fittingly, the most recent of those adventures was the high profile rescue of 21 sailors from the yacht Rambler 100 which capsized during the Fastnet Race last August.

In March, the Hilda Jarrett will finally leave Baltimore to join the RNLI relief fleet. She will do so having served with distinction and every bit as immaculate as the day she arrived.

Sunday Independent

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