The Volunteer lifeboat crew at Weston-super-Mare have been limited in the use of their larger lifeboat, the Atlantic 75, for over a year.
Until November 2013 the RNLI crew at Weston-super-Mare operated off Birnbeck island with two lifeboats and were the busiest lifeboat station on the English side of the Bristol Channel. The shallow waters, the extensive mud and the vicious tides of the Bristol Channel ensured that the type of lifeboats in use were Inshore Lifeboats.
One was the D Class boat, the Anna Stock. A small rubber boat which does not give the impression of great power but is in fact the workhorse of the RNLI. Over 60% of all the rescues and 6o% of the lives saved are by the RNLI crews using the D Class. It is a state of the art, extremely robust, rescue craft. However it does have some limitations. It cannot do major towing, it is not suitable for very heavy weather and it only carries a relatively small crew.
The other lifeboat on Birnbeck Island was an Atlantic 75, the Coventry and Warwickshire. These Atlantic 75s and their 85 cousins are the fastest off shore lifeboats in the RNLI fleet. Able to travel at over 32 knots, to tow heavy loads and to cope with all but the most extreme weather these boats also act to support the smaller D Class, an essential requirement in the unpredictable waters around Weston.
In November 2013 the Pier by which the Weston RNLI volunteers accessed Birnbeck Island became so dangerous than it was no longer possible operate normally from the boathouse there. In a short period of time a temporary station was built on the land by the harbour at Knightstone. This had to be small as it was on the main promenade of this tourist town. Thus it could only house the smaller D Class lifeboat. For some time the crew could go back on the Island to launch the Atlantic if necessary. However the Pier deteriorated more and the buildings on the Island were also crumbling. Soon it was very difficult to get to the Atlantic and its use for training and operations almost ceased.
Not only did this mean Weston station could not do as many emergency calls as it was used to but the crew could no longer train Such training is vital for them to maintain the extensive skills they have developed to save lives at sea. It also meant that the morale of the crew, who as volunteers give up their time to do what they do to help people and make a difference, suffered as they only had the one lifeboat to use.
Birnbeck Island has now been sold and the RNLI does not see any further involvement with it. Recently they have begun to clear all the RNLI equipment from the Island. This has included bringing the Atlantic over to the mainland and, thanks to the support of the local Council, she is now housed next to the temporary station on Knightstone. She will be used for training and when appropriate for operations. The morale of the crew has shot up and Weston-super-Mare RNL lifeboat station is now back to full complement.
Charlotte Conroy, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Weston-super-Mare RNLI station says; It is great that we now have both our lifeboats back with us. The morale of the crew has gone up significantly. Having our largest lifeboat on the Island, with all the difficulties accessing it has been depressing. Now we can get on with our training on both lifeboats in all weathers and continuing to provide a round the clock life saving service.’