Postcard from Penlee

Throughout today — and as I’m writing these words — I must confess my eyes have been in a constant state of flood alert.

Working and living in and around the community of Penlee Point this week has been an emotional time.

Those brimming tears aren’t of sadness; they’re of contentment and a new understanding.

It’s been a consolidation day, you see; a time of rest and reflection that I factor into my schedule every few days to make sure the Project stays sharp before moving on.


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The view I enjoyed with fish and chips this evening, formulating this post in my mind…

If you’ve been kind enough to follow the Project from the beginning — and especially if we know each other personally — you’ll know that the path hasn’t been straight forward, as I described in the blog post All or Nothing.

You’ll also be aware that the build-up to Penlee has loomed large in the planning, mainly because I just wanted to get it right.

Now, before we know it, my time here is nearly over and I almost don’t know where to start when trying to convey my feelings and emotions.

The people I’ve met have been extraordinary; from Elaine Trethowan, who did her utmost as the station’s Press Officer to make the visit the best it could be, to Dudley and Raymond — the very men who launched the Solomon Browne on the night of 19th December 1981, never to see their best mates again.


AN ASIDE

Of course, the photographs you see below have just been made in the last few days. Therefore, they only currently exist as glass plates.

Here, you’ll see photographs that I took at the time of the plates sitting in their wash trays, shortly after they’d been made.

I’ve flipped these images horizontally too so that they’re the right way round (not the case when viewed at the time in their trays) so as to give you a good idea of their final appearance.


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Dudley Penrose and Raymond Pomeroy looking out to sea from the old Penlee boathouse, Wednesday 23rd September 2015, 12×10 inch Ambrotype (available as a limited edition of 50 prints)

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Nim, Dudley, Nabo and Raymond looking out to sea from the old Penlee boathouse, the colossal doors looming large behind them, Wednesday 23rd September 2015, 12×10 inch Ambrotype (available as a limited edition of 50 prints)

I’ve been staying in Mousehole for the last five days, the home of the old boathouse and the families of everyone connected with it.

To be so accepted by the community in and around Penlee Point has been extraordinary.

This afternoon, for example, it took a long time to walk from Neena to the café for a spot of lunch simply because I kept bumping into people I’d met either during my time here or those who wanted to talk with me about the photographs I’d made.

They’d been affected and it had a caused a stir. As far as I can tell, a positive stir.

That to me was the most sublime affirmation — that such a sensitive subject and location had been recorded in a manner approved by those who have to live with the legacy of such an all-consuming tragedy.

If you need to refresh your memories about that event, you can read about it here.


When I met Patch — Coxswain of the current Penlee Lifeboat around the corner in Newlyn — for the first time, he greeted me with a big smile and a warm handshake that would set the tone for the rest of my time with the crew and all those that support them…


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Patch, Penlee RNLI Coxswain on the famous RNLB Ivan Ellen, Tuesday 22nd September 2015, 12×10 inch Ambrotype (available as a limited edition of 50 prints)

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The view from the current Penlee Lifeboat Station in Newlyn, Thursday 24th September 2015, 12×10 inch Ambrotype (available as a limited edition of 50 prints)

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The Penlee RNLI Crew, Tuesday 22nd September 2015, 12×10 inch Ambrotype (available as a limited edition of 50 prints)

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Roy Pascoe and Janet Madron, Thursday 24th September 2015, 12×10 inch Ambrotype (available as a limited edition of 50 prints)

THE VIEW FROM THE OLD BOATHOUSE

In the lead up to Wednesday, three photographs burned strongly in my mind’s eye that I knew I wanted to make.

The first you have seen already, that of Dudley and Raymond.

The second was this, the view down the slipway from the old boathouse — the construction that launched the crew of the Solomon Browne for the very last time:

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The view from the old Penlee boathouse at Mousehole, Wednesday 23rd September 2015, 12×10 inch Ambrotype (available as a limited edition of 50 prints)

If you’d like one of the 50 limited edition prints of this photograph, please act swiftly as it’s currently the fastest selling from the Project so far — click the image above to be taken to the correct page.


THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE

Anybody who visits this area of Cornwall and has any connection with the RNLI cannot escape the legacy of the awful night that ultimately drenched the entire community.

It hangs over them. Thirty four years on, it’s so tangible, raw and real.

When I made Patch’s portrait on Tuesday, I described to him the third photograph I wanted to make and asked if he would be happy to help. He agreed wholeheartedly.

I explained that I had a very strong mental image of Patch standing silhouetted in the doorway of the old boathouse, looking out to sea.

It would be my own personal nod to the fact that, yes, the tragedy happened but with gratitude that the service provided by the RNLI carries on to this day and, no doubt, long into the future.

These people have the strength of character to selflessly go to the aid of others in trouble in and around our waters. Although they are not willingly risking their own lives to do that, they are always aware that things can go wrong.

Ultimately, the old Penlee boathouse at Mousehole is a reminder of that risk and a monument to what it really means to crew a lifeboat…


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Patch, the current Penlee RNLI Coxswain, between the doors of the old boathouse, Wednesday 23rd September 2015, 12×10 inch Ambrotype (available as a limited edition of 50 prints)

50 LIMITED EDITION PRINTS

50 limited edition prints from each of the Penlee plates are now available to buy on a dedicated page.

Remember, the view from the old boathouse is selling particularly well, so act swiftly if you’d like to have one delivered to your door:

BUY PENLEE PRINTS


YOUR SUPPORT

Whilst on the road in Cornwall during Mission No.6 your support is as vital as ever to help the Project succeed…

Although the RNLI are supporting me logistically, I’m currently raising the funding under my own steam — in essence, my own form of crowdfunding.

Print sales, pre-orders and contributions keep The Lifeboat Station Project on the road:

YOUR SUPPORT


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I’d like to thank the crew and staff at Penlee Lifeboat Station for hosting the Project with such generosity and warmth.

Special thanks to Elaine Trethowan, Patch and the veteran crew members for helping to make such wonderful photographs at both the old and current boathouses.

As ever, my gratitude also lies with my old pal, Hen, for volunteering his help so willingly and enthusiastically. It means the world to me.

Thank you also to Peter Naylor, an independent filmmaker, who gave up his time to shadow the Project this week. Stay tuned on that front.

Right, time for one last pint at The Ship Inn before moving on to Sennen Cove tomorrow…

3 Comments

  1. There are times in our lives where everything seems to go in slow motion, that leave an impression on our minds that can never be erased. 20th December 1981 was one such time. For all who knew the Solomon Browne and her brave crew, the devastating news that many of us woke to on that Sunday morning remains a very raw memory. Our crew, who always came back, were no more. They will though, live forever in our minds and hearts.
    To those who have continued their work in risking their lives for others, we salute you and give you our support and hopes that you will always return to us safely.

  2. I was not in the uk on that awful night, it was on the British World news in the morning, going to work at a hospital in Egypt, I was stunned, full of grief for Mousehole, and every year, that sadness is repeated, with an undying gratitude for the RNLI and huge admiration for those lost that night

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