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Lifeboats to be saved

PUBLISHED: 12:30 06 August 2008 | UPDATED: 13:52 21 May 2010

George 55, is known for his Stiffkey Cockles boats.



They serve their time saving lives off the UK coast, but then either get left to rot or butchered to be used as fishing boats.

George 55, is known for his Stiffkey Cockles boats.

They serve their time saving lives off the UK coast, but then either get left to rot or butchered to be used as fishing boats.

Some ex-service RNLI lifeboats end up in service abroad, but many get forgotten down muddy creeks or are converted beyond all recognition.

But now boat lovers and builders George and David Hewitt of Stiffkey, are set to turn around the fates of three lifeboats spanning three eras of wooden lifeboat building.

It had always been a dream of David to own the 1965 built Wells lifeboat, stationed there for 25 years, as he was taken to see it many times as a child and got to know many of the crew.

And the 1951 built Robert Lindsay made older brother George's dreams come true when he was able to acquire the wreck involved in a disaster in 1953 in Scotland, since used as a fishing boat.

Unlike many life boats, she had been kept in service despite capsizing and seeing the loss of six of the seven crew in Arbroath harbour, where she was based, in October 1953.

She was refurbished and moved to Wales before being sold off, stripped and had its stern lopped off in order to turn it into a fishing boat.

It had been built by famous Isle of Wight boat builders, Groves and Gutteridge.

“She ended up fishing out of Wells,” said David Hewitt. “She was in a very poor condition and she got so bad they couldn't really use her so they abandoned her in a creek there. But we knew where she was.

“The standard of workmanship on those boats was unbelievable. There was no expense spared.”

Both inherited a love of boats from their father, Eddie, and have looked after crab boats from Sea Palling to Wells, where David's life boat, the Ernest Tom Nethercote, was stationed from 1965 to 1990.

He knew many of the former crew and its sister boat, the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, is now in Sheringham Museum.

“She hadn't been in the water since she was sold out of the service,” he said. “I knew all her crew and I felt I had the ability to do it up so I felt I should. I always wanted to do one up and she was the ideal one to do.”

The third, the Horace Clarkeson, is the most modern of the three, built in 1977, and is one of the last wooden lifeboats built.

She was stationed at Moelfre on Anglesey until 1986 before finding its way to Southampton where it was rotting in the mud.

It is to be renovated for a customer of the Hewitt's who wants something different that he can just get in and head out into the sea.

David and George hope the Horace Clarkeson and the Ernest Tom Nethercote will be finished by early summer next year and will be launched together.

Work on the Robert Lindsay will depend on getting the parts. Major repair work, including replacing the stern, has already been carried out. This could mean it could take a couple more years - all in their spare time.

Efforts to get back its original engine canopy, currently on display a Lowestoft Museum, have so far proved fruitless, Mr Hewitt said.

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