New Wells RNLI boathouse will be stable base for the next 100 years of lifesaving at sea
PUBLISHED: 17:57 05 December 2017 | UPDATED: 19:11 05 December 2017
It was the devastating tidal surge exactly four years ago that proved to be a pivotal moment for the RNLI in Wells in drawing up plans for a new boathouse.
On December 5, 2013, the current lifeboat station was completely engulfed by the sea and its eastern side nearly collapsed under the weight of the water and 70 tonnes of sand and silt which had to be hand shovelled out by the crew through the night.
As a strategic five-year review had identified Wells as next in line for a new Shannon class lifeboat it was abundantly clear that when a new boathouse was built, it needed to be on higher ground.
And after months of planning the architect drawings for the new building were revealed to the public for the first time today at Wells Sailing Club.
As well as providing more space for the lifeboats and transporters, there will be improved crew facilities with showers, a drying room and an area for training and meetings.
It will replace the existing building at the end of Beach Road and will be built near the slipway, at the same height as the beach bank, sheltered by sea defences.
Operations manager Chris Hardy said it was the most appropriate location.
“There is much easier access for the crews, getting provisions in, and for visitors,” he said.
“The current boathouse is vulnerable, we are certainly experiencing more of these ‘king’ tides than ever before. Records don’t indicate that it was a problem when it was first built over 100 years ago but in designing this boathouse the architects have taken into account the highest predicted tides for at least the next 50 years.”
Architect Steve Robinson said piles would be driven into the sand to provide a stable base for the building.
“There is a lot of structural work,” he said. “We have been in extensive talks with planners at North Norfolk District Council and environmental bodies and we hope it goes through smoothly.”
Peter Rainsford, chairman of Wells RNLI, said “significant” donations and legacies had been given towards the cost of the new lifeboat and facilities.
“We are very fortunate here that people value our services enough to help pay for them,” he said. “This is the future of lifesaving for the next 100 years.”
Coxswain Allen Frary added: “These are really exciting times for us.”
Support from the community
People who came to view the plans for the new boathouse expressed their praise for the proposed building, which will be determined by North Norfolk District Council.
Joe Ellison said it was “a lovely building”.
He added: “It’s fascinating. We are very proud of our crew in Wells and they deserve a new boat and a new building.
“I would be very surprised if the whole town was not in favour of it.”
Chris Refoy, estates chief engineer for the RNLI, said the architect had worked closely with them and had incorporated design elements from other lifeboat stations.
“It is an evolution of everything that works well,” he said. “It is better to keep some things as standard than reinventing the wheel but each design will have differences depending on local characteristics.”
A lifetime at sea
David Cox was coxswain of Wells lifeboat for 27 years, taking over from his uncle in 1960, and was excited to see the new plans.
He took charge of the boat before the current Mersey, the Ernest Tom Heathercoat.
But the 91-year-old said things were very different in those days.
“Just about every coastal village had its own lifeboat and they were manned by fishermen,” he said.
“They were at Hunstanton, Thornham, Brancaster and all the fishermen in the crew had local knowledge which you can’t buy.
“Now the lifeboat has to cover much greater distances and have a much greater range so needs to be faster.”
He said the worst night of his life was during a rescue 17 miles out to sea.
“They were the worst conditions I had ever seen, there was snow, blizzards and visibility was only five metres but I had faith in my boat,” he said.
“I could not fault that boat and I could not have wished for a better crew.”