Prompted by a patron’s post in The LSP Society app, here’s the story of how my visit to Wicklow RNLI lifeboat station came about in 2019.
The audio recording you’re about to hear has been published in the Members’ Area for a few years but I’ve remastered it today and — thinking that we could all do with a bit of cheering up — I’m making it publicly available for the first time in this post.
Read on to learn more:
Let’s rewind the clock to January 2019, to the time when I was installing my exhibition at Poole Museum.
I was staying on the RNLI College campus and headed to the Slipway Bar one evening after a long day working at the museum.
As I was waiting for my pint of Lifeboat Ale to be poured, I could hear the chap ordering next to me and immediately clocked his Irish accent.
“Hello, where are you from?” I asked.
“Wicklow!” he replied as a penny dropped:
“You’re that guy who’s travelling to all the lifeboat stations making those Victorian-style photos, aren’t you?”
“Yes, that’s me.” I chuckled as I sipped my beer.
“So when are you coming to our station? We’ve got Annie Blaker, the last serving Tyne class lifeboat in the fleet. She’s being decommissioned in March, so you must come and photograph her before she leaves the station. A real piece of RNLI history.”
“Right, you’re on.”
To cut a long story short, that was that.
It wasn’t until emails started flowing with the station that I realised I’d been talking to their Deputy 2nd Coxswain, Ciarán Doyle.
I knew that Ciarán was right — I had to seize the opportunity to document Annie Blaker and, just eight weeks later, I arrived in Wicklow on the east coast of Ireland.
I knew from the outset that audio would be important to this visit. After all, whenever you mention a Tyne class to a lifeboat aficionado, they always mention the roar of the Detroit engines before anything else.
The sound is so distinctive and…erm…loud!
The crew were keen to help and offered to take me on a short engine run.
That was a very exciting prospect. Not only was it a chance to make the audio recording I’d hankered after but it would also complete the set — a trip aboard Annie Blaker would mean that I’d been to sea on every operational class of RNLI lifeboat!
THE LITTLE GROWL
And here is the audio recording, first published in March 2019 and remastered today in 2023 (choose Listen in Browser if you’re presented with an option):
I made time to edit the recording before leaving Wicklow, as I wanted it to be a parting gift for the man who I knew would love it the most — Brendan Copeland, the Station Mechanic who’d looked after Annie Blaker for some 30 years.
This is the moment I handed Brendan the headphones:
Watching him listen to the recording was a joy and, furthermore, it’s the first time the station are aware of their lifeboat’s legendary Detroit engines being recorded like this.
You’ll see Brendan welling up in the clip as he says:
“Beautiful isn’t it? How would you get better than that? The little growl on her. Lovely.”
That was so satisfying for me and I couldn’t have wished for a better compliment.
WICKLOW ON GLASS
Photography was fundamental to my visit too, of course, and here are the eight 12×10 inch glass plate photographs we made that day — a poignant slice of the RNLI’s timeline documented for the history books, and all from a chance meeting at the Slipway Bar in Poole:
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