This last weekend we had a courtesy visit from the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) lifeboat from Longhope (linked to the island of Hoy via a causeway). The Lifeboat Ladies Guild had come to the island to raise funds with a sale of Christmas gifts and souvenirs, raffle, tombola and 2nd-hand books. Meanwhile the crew gave tours of their vessel and chatted with folk before coming up to the community hall where the sale was and sharing in tea and cake.
There are times when the folk on Graemsay take my breath away and this was one such occasion. Everyone on the island turned out to welcome the crew and ladies guild, buy something in the sale and take part in the raffle. The Ladies Guild Chair, Trish Avis, told us we had raised £306 in the two hours they were here. That is just extraordinary! Well done Graemsay folk!!
The Longhope Lifeboat has, as a "member" of the crew, wee Hector......the Scotty dog. Hector has a growing fan club, of which I may have to become self-appointed President (it might come with perks!). Hector certainly has presence! He graciously accepted some dog biscuits on his arrival (don't worry the crew got home bakes!).
And he then "thanked" me by peeing on my car wheel!! Pah!! I'll take it as a term of endearment.....hmmmm. As you can see he has his own very special life jacket - complete with carry handle to haul him out of trouble!
Hector was pleased to meet folk, but I think he was less than impressed at having to wear antlers....I suspect his person, Angus, will pay for that!
Meanwhile two of the Graemsay boys were enjoying playing a game of sharks (you had to be there)
A few of the folk, buying raffle tickets and browsing...
I was busy helping serve tea and cake so didn't see the lifeboat till they were about to depart. But the lads gave me a tour around when I took some folk back to the pier. I have to say I was really impressed and amazed at the high tech equipment on board. In the cabin each crewman has a seat into which they are safely harnessed and a video screen to enable them to do a variety of tasks. Now, in my ignorance I didn't even KNOW that there were things to do apart from steer the boat! But there's a navigator, a radio operator, and a mechanic, as well as the Coxswain. There is also a seat for a paramedic or doctor, and a place for a stretcher nearby too. First aid equipment is on board, of course, both in the upper cabin and below deck.
Below deck there are seats for survivors to be strapped in. It's a watertight cabin with no windows down there and I did feel a wee bit claustrophobic but I'm guessing that I'd just be happy to be rescued and not fussed that I couldn't see out!!!
The engines were gleaming - there are two apparently. And lots of electronic "stuff" safely stowed away.
The latest boats are all self-righting so in the event of capsizing they return to the right way up.
In an island community such as ours we rely on the volunteers of the RNLI - for yes they are all volunteers - there are only a couple of paid posts. The RNLI is a registered charity, and that's how they are able to fund all the lifeboats around our shores. And why the Ladies Lifeboat Guild are so important in fund-raising. Most of the crew are made up of members of the local communities who willingly put their lives at risk to go out and save others.
The Longhope RNLI has a long, proud history of this, together with its share of tragedy. On the 17th March 1969 the Longhope Lifeboat, "T.G.B." was lost with all hands while attempting to rescue a stricken ship. If you read the story of this tradegy here and look down the list of the men lost, you will see that two women each lost their husbands and two sons. In the tiny community of Brims on Hoy, each home lost someone. Yet the next day a new crew were ready to set to sea to save further lives when the call came. The graves of the men are now marked by one of the most poignant and haunting statues - that of a lone crewman gazing forever out to sea.
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These days women also make up the crew and take to the rough seas. The highly trained crew are now well equipped and have amazing vessels to enable them to deal with the worst of weathers. But that doesn't detract from their courage and bravery in going out, usually on a dark, stormy night, to the aid of a stricken crew.
It was great to meet the crew of the Longhope lifeboat, who, together with the Stromness Lifeboat, are vital to the seas around Graemsay, Stromness and Hoy. I got to hug a Hero AND Hector! How cool is that?!!
As dusk was falling they gathered at the Graemsay pier to head off. Hector checking to make sure all were aboard! (He's not allowed out on a real "shout").
And they sailed off into the fading light. A lifeboat full of quiet heroes.... though maybe not so quiet once safely home and sharing a wee dram ;-)