Making The Lifeboat Station Project has often been heart-in-mouth to say the least.
Jeopardy’s rarely been far away, whether financially, logistically or with the photographic process itself. Many of you know this, of course, which is precisely why you are supporting me.
Preparing for Mission 21 was no different, in fact, more so in many ways after keeping the project alive for two years during the pandemic. I was very much at the thin end of the financial wedge and, for many reasons, I was anxious to be leaving home for the best part of a month.
Would I be able to pick up from where I left off? Would the process work? Would I have enough money? Would I be away from my loved ones if Putin decided to push the button?
It seems a shame to bring the P-word into proceedings but it feels like a very real concern when one is away from home for a long time…well, it is for me, anyway. The world is changing so quickly, after all.
Nevertheless, I continued to put one foot in front of the other and, before I knew it, signs started to appear that I was on the right track once again — little things here and there that, in truth, had become a distant memory. The good feelings fo working on the coast. The connections. The happenstances.
An email floated in from Andy Dodd, a former Hoylake RNLI Coxswain (now Area Lifesaving Manager) who’d already booked a private commission for my visit to the station.
He wondered if I’d like to go to Hilbre Island. The email read:
“When you are at Hoylake there may be an opportunity to visit Hilbre Island where the old lifeboat station stands at the north end of the island.
“The Hilbre station was manned by the Hoylake crew until 1939 when the station was closed due to the introduction of the tractor at Hoylake. Chris Williams, who I know you have met when you went for dinner with him and John Fox down in Newlyn a few years back, has offered to take you over to the island in his Land Rover, if this is something you would be interested in?”
Yes, of course I’d be interested!
The emails went to and fro and how amazing it would be to see Chris again. We did indeed dine together back in 2015 when he was on passage to St. Ives with John Fox, the time when I was working at the old Penlee lifeboat station:
The comms culminated with an email from Chris:
“We will pick you up from your B&B at 1030 next Monday. We will follow the tide out to the island where I think you’ll get a great perspective of the area and a taste of the wonderful history. I’ll sort some lunch!”
That sounded just dreamy to me. What a wonderful plan.
I stood outside my B&B at the allotted time and kept my eyes peeled for Chris’ Land Rover.
There they were. Confirmed by a flash of the headlights. Right on time.
Smiley faces greeted me: Andy, Chris and who’s this? Aha! Davy Dodd — Andy’s father!
Davy (or Doddy as he’s known) is legendary at Hoylake RNLI — Coxswain for over 30 years but has served at the station in some capacity for well over 50 years.
It was great to see them as I clambered into the splendid Landy. We all hit it off immediately. I could tell it was going to be a good day.
It soon became obvious why a Land Rover was needed as we headed out to Hilbre Island across the sands before bumping over rocky, tight terrain. Of course, the vehicle took it all in its stride and, in no time at all, we were parked up outside the island’s bird observatory, which Chris helps to manage.
As I closed the door behind me, Chris turned off the engine and the place fell utterly silent, bar the glorious sound of birds.
It reminded me of a sensation I’ve experienced many times before: that of being in another world. Like landing on the moon.
The last time it happened quite so lucidly was in 2018 when Dover RNLI took me out out to Goodwin Sands to commemorate the halfway point of the project.
And it was hot on Hilbre. Scorching hot. Similar UV levels to Miami, apparently, so it was time to don the sun cream.
The chatting continued. Luckily, I’d brought my audio equipment!
I switched on the gear and started to record the fascinating conversations, some of which you can listen to above.
For the sake of (relative) brevity, there was so much gold that hit the cutting room floor that I may well have to make a sequel in due course.
Once we returned from our wander to the old lifeboat station, Chris had indeed sorted some lunch — my favourite meal of the day!
And what a meal. Fresh brown bread from the bakery. Gorgeous sliced ham from the butcher. Crisps. Fruit. And to cap it all off, a sublime Victoria sponge cake washed down with a lovely cup of tea.
Heavenly Hilbre indeed.
A MOMENT SHARED
There’s one more moment I’d like to share with you because we allude to it in the recording above.
I really am reticent to mention it here but I feel it’s indicative of our times, how much these things are playing on our minds, and how all this stuff is never far away from our thoughts and conversations — even for hardened lifeboat crew who’ve been through hell and high water themselves:
Once we’d eaten, we reflected on the perfect afternoon we were having. It really was bliss.
Then the place fell silent again as we paused, looking towards the mainland across the beautiful sands.
“Care to share your thoughts?” I asked Davy.
“Well, Putin can’t know beauty like this because, if he did, he wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing.”
Indeed, Davy. Indeed.
IMMORTALISED ON GLASS
The next day at the lifeboat station was extremely busy all day long, so I was doubly-pleased that the three of us had spent that time together.
It helped to make for really beautiful photographs. Here’s a reminder of the crew portrait and I thought you might also like to see the portrait Andy commissioned me to make with his father:
A CHAT WITH TRACY
As a bonus, you might like to listen to the spontaneous conversation I had with Tracy Davies who was the RNLI’s first female SLARS (Shannon Launch and Recovery System) tractor driver.
She happened to be in the lifeboat station on my final day and was very happy to spend a few minutes talking with me.
It turned out to be great insight into the mindset of those who launch their crewmates into stormy seas and, as you’ll hear, Tracy turns the tables towards the end and asks me a few questions too!
I really hope you enjoy both the recordings. As always, remember to listen with some good quality headphones if you can because it’ll really take you there.
You can also find these sonic treats on the Members’ Audio page.
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