New plans to refloat historic lifeboat
A LIFEBOAT that served Winterton at the turn of the last century could be made seaworthy once again more than a decade after her keel last tasted water.
The Edward Birkbeck was launched 44 times and saved 94 lives between 1896 and 1924 when she was withdrawn.
Now trustees of Winterton Lifeboat Restoration Group have decided they want to see her afloat again.
Although the pandemic has been a huge interruption, volunteers are still working on her and they’re determined that one day she’ll be back in her natural element.
Project manager Maynard Watson, a master boatbuilder, is confident it’s achievable. He said: “It was always the idea. Some thought it was too much of a task. But I’ve saved a boat by keeping the tiller and rebuilding the rest.”
“It definitely is worth it. Everybody will appreciate it better.”
He said: “We’ve got to replace the lifeboat mast and all the rigging and the interior, that’s all missing. We’ve started with the keel as we always do and we’ll work our way up. The mast will be the last thing to be thought about.”
The difference between making it seaworthy rather than just a museum piece was that it had to be structurally robust. “We’re trying to make this as historically correct as much as we can, but also it has to be strong enough.”
Key to the success of the project is a permanent home. It was hoped a heritage centre could be built on the site of the old lifeboat house in the dunes that was the Edward Birkbeck’s original home. But that’s been ruled out because of the risk it could be inundated at some stage. Plans for a base on the dunes alongside the fishermen’s sheds were refused by the borough council, so the search continues.
In the meantime Maynard and his team of volunteers work in a temporary boat shelter put up in the grounds of Hales Lodge. But they are in need of professional help and that’s another area where a major fundraising effort will be needed.
Even with four professionals working full time it would still be at least 18 months before the work came close to completion. “Obviously we can’t do that but we could do a mix,” he said. He has experience at the Norfolk Wherry Trust where professionals have been employed to work alongside volunteers restoring and maintaining the Wherry Albion.
The lifeboat travelled hundreds of nautical miles in various guises after she left Winterton. She spent time as a fishing smack, a sloop and a cutter. At one point she was owned by a Captain Sparrow and in the gales of 1987 her new owners had to be rescued by the St Davids Lifeboat as they sailed her from Plymouth to North Wales. She passed through several owners before she was abandoned, little more than a rotting hulk.
Then in 2011 the parish clerk had a call from the harbourmaster in Conwy who had Googled her name and wondered if the village wanted her back.
If the group achieves its aim there are several fishermen prepared to help haul it up and down the beach for launches. Descendants of former crewmembers still take an interest in it and even those who have moved far away from Winterton have returned to take a look at it.
To find out more and to get involved visit wintertonlifeboatrestoration.org.uk