Over the summer, I set about planning Mission 11 to the Welsh coast by sending my usual emails to the lifeboat stations a month or so ahead of time.
St Davids would feature on this particular leg of the journey, a favourite location for many RNLI supporters. An iconic lifeboat station in a stunning setting with a maritime rescue heritage that dates back to 1869.
LAY OF THE LAND
A reply came winging its way from Dai John, the long-serving Coxswain. It’s been a special time for St Davids, he told me. The RNLI have been in the throes of upgrading the station’s facilities in the most magnificent way — a brand new boathouse.
Unfortunately, however, the station and crew wouldn’t be ready in time for my proposed September date.
They were yet to make the switch to the new boathouse. Their trusty Tyne Class Garside (47-026) was still in the old shed, with the brand new Tamar Class Norah Wortely (16-26) sitting afloat on her mooring, patiently awaiting access to her new home.
Sure, I was a little disappointed. However, one of my most important jobs on The Project is not the photography, of course, but to fit in as best as possible with the timings and logistics of the volunteers who already give up so much time for the charity that saves lives at sea.
Dai was still more than happy for us to pay a visit, so we’d use the occasion as a recce — to assess the lay of the land in preparation for a return trip once the crew were settled into their new station.
ASIDE: I’ve just noticed a coincidence — the operating numbers of both All-weather Lifeboats at St Davids are 26, meaning that they were both the 26th of their respective classes to be built. Strange but true.
Sunday 18th September soon came around and we were warmly welcomed by Dai.
As he showed us between the two stations, it soon became apparent that the delayed move into the new St Davids RNLI boathouse was far from a disappointment on our journey — it was an enhancement. A veritable treat!
So many RNLI facilities around our craggy coastline are already extremely well established. Furthermore, the slipway mechanism is something that the charity is gradually moving away from where possible.
Therefore, in this modern era of sea rescue, it dawned on me that an opportunity like this is extremely rare — to step inside a brand new empty boathouse with a slipway. A building so new that there’s still bubble wrap on the door handles, the smell of adhesives and treated timber in the air. An absence of hubbub. The peace and sterility of emptiness.
We were at the heart of the RNLI’s evolution, straddling its past and future. What a thrill for a lifeboat geek like me!
With my mind bubbling away, I seized the chance to ask Dai if I could spend an hour or two making plates of the view through the cavernous doorway with Ramsey Island in the distance.
He not only agreed but also kindly helped to lug my gear repeatedly up down the steep cliff-face staircase. A typical lifeboatman, always keen to help. I think Dai had also realised the importance of this moment for the Project.
FLYING THE FLAG
Before the day was out, I also made the time to scope a vantage point from which to enjoy the juxtaposition of both the old and new boathouses, hoping that my ancient lens would be wide enough to incorporate the scene in its full splendour.
I was in luck. And as I composed the photograph — upside down and back-to-front — my focusing loupe landed on the RNLI flag.
Another realisation followed: this photograph would truly be an historical record. A special moment on the RNLI’s timeline. Anybody seeing this plate in fifty or even one hundred years’ time would soon be able to pinpoint when it was made.
The flag, you see, is flying on the station that’s currently in service. Yet, in the absence of construction equipment, the brand new station certainly appears to be complete and just about ready for service.
That means the plate, without doubt, was made in the Autumn of 2016. Sunday 18th September, in fact — a little over a month before the new station came into service.
In such a grand scene, I love that one fluttering RNLI flag tells us so much…
50 LIMITED EDITION PRINTS
Limited Edition Prints from each of the St Davids plates are now available to buy, the sales of which help to keep the Project on the road.
Remember, the prints are all made by me and limited to just 50 — a unique record of this historical moment on the RNLI’s timeline.
The plate of the old and new boathouses can be found at the top of the Mission Extras page:
Both the St Davids plates can be found on the West Wales page. You’ll need to scroll past the other stations on the coastline to reach them (lower down the page):
RNLI PRESS RELEASE
Here’s an excerpt from the RNLI’s press release written by Chris Cousens:
“But today is also a day of reflection as volunteer lifeboat crew past and present say goodbye to the beloved Tyne class lifeboat Garside as it launches down the old station slipway for the final time. Garside first arrived on station in 1988 and in its 28 years of service has launched 343 times to emergencies at sea. Its crews have saved 79 lives and rescued 35 people.”