Fifty five years after the Royal National Life Boat Institution was formed, St Davids residents applied and were awarded their first lifeboat in 1869.
Not that the requirement for a lifeboat was a difficult decision at all. The waters off St Davids and Ramsey Island, including the notorious Bishops & Clerks rocks and reefs coupled with the very strong tides of the area had caused many a vessel to come to grief.
The area of St Davids Peninsula juts out into the Irish Sea and was and still is a noted navigation land mark. Ships from all over the world pass close to the shore as well as m any local vessels and fishing boats. Fishguard Life Boat to the North and St Davids Life Boat are the closest Welsh Lifeboats to southern Ireland and as such bear a huge responsibility for the saving of lives in the Irish Sea and St Georges Channel. In addition to sea traffic St Davids and Strumble Heads are import waypoints or navigation marks for trans-Atlantic aircraft and at times the lifeboats have been called upon for search and rescue in connection with these.
In all nearly 450 lives have been saved by the St Davids Lifeboats
These pages give a brief insight to the organisation and heroism of the St Davids Life Boat. Fuller details can be obtained from ” The Story Of the St Davids Lifeboats” by Dr G W Middleton obtainable from local stores and with the proceeds donated to the RNLI.
Chronical of Lifeboats
The Augusta (1869 to 1885)
Donated by Lord Dartmouth and named after his wife the lifeboat was maned by 10 oarsmen and was 32ft long. As a life boat station had not been constructed the lifeboat was originally stationed in the middle of St Davids, some two miles from the sea and was conveyed by horse drawn carriage. For a while it was stored at Porthlysgi farm where the coxswain David Hicks lived and launched from the nearby beach.
During her period of service the Augusta was launched on service seventeen times and saved 23 lives. When the boat was retired David Hicks the coxswain purchased her and used her upside down on his farm as a chicken coup!
The Gem (1885-1910)
Costing £300 the Gem was a twelve oared and sailing lifeboat and was launched from the newly constructed slipway at St Justinians. During her period of service she was launched 19 times and saved 16 lives.
Her service ended tragically when she foundered on the Bitches Rocks with the loss of three of the crewmen, Coxswain Stephens, Henry Rowlands and James Price.
The General Farrell (1911-1936)
On the loss of the Gem, another oared and sailing vessel briefly covered the station before the first motor lifeboat, the General Farrell was introduced. With a top speed of 7 knots General Farrell was powered by petrol with the ability to also be powered by sail.
Coxswain Sidney Mortimer of the Gem fame sailed her from Blackwall in London taking just over two days to complete the Voyage. She cost £3,000 and was donated by Mrs C Leckie of Walton On Thames.
She was housed in a new boathouse and slipway built at St Justinians above the existing slipway.
The Swn-Y-Mor (1936 to 1963)
At a cost of £7618 the Swn-Y-Mor operated in one of the busiest times in the stations history. The vessel had twin petrol engines and fitted with the latest equipment such as radio and first aid kits. She launched 90 times saving 108 lives. She had a small cockpit cover to provide shelter for the crew and performed a number of noteworthy rescues in her time of service.
The most famous of the rescues was in 1954 when the World Concord tanker broke in two during a strong storm, 35 crew were rescued from the tanker and saved by the Swn-Y-Mor and her crew.
The Joseph Soar (1963-1985)
Named after the long-serving St Davids station Honorary Secretary the Joseph Soar cost £40,000 and had a whopping range of 300 nautical miles. She included MF and VHF radios, drogue, wave subduing oil, stretchers and first aid equipment. She had a refit in 1974 bringing the vessel up to modern times. The boat was made to be self-righting and the cabin sealed to be watertight with radar and night operation equipment fitted.
She launched 99 times and saved 45 lives.
The Ruby and Arthur Reed (1985-1988)
The Joseph Soar was moved from St Davids up to Dunbar in south-east Scotland and replaced by the second-hand vessel Ruby and Arthur Reed in 1985. She had already been launched numerous times and saved 58 lives in the process. She was in service at St Davids for only 3 years and launched 10 times saving 9 lives.
A Tyne class lifeboat, Garside can travel at up to 17.5 knots with a range of 240 nautical miles and can self-right in under 10 seconds. At the time she cost over half a million pounds to build, RNLI policy has been to refit her every 5 years for maintenance and repainting.
She has been launched over 160 times from her iconic station at St Justinians, saving numerous lives.
Norah Wortley (2013-Present)
In April 2013 St Davids received their new Tamar class lifeboat, Norah Wortley. She is fitted with the latest equipment has a top speed on 25 knots and carries a smaller Y boat fitted with a 15hp engine that can be used to access areas not possible to get to with the large lifeboat.
St Davids lifeboat station is in the unique position of currently operating two all-weather lifeboats with the Tyne class Garside and Tamar class Norah Wortley. The primary reason for this being that the current lifeboat station at St Justinians is not sufficiently big enough to fit the Tamar class in. A new lifeboat station is currently being built to house the Tamar class with operation from the new station expected to begin during the Autumn of 2016.
Most of our skippers are current or previous members of the St Davids Lifeboat and will discuss with you its history and operations. On launches we are often able to position our vessels close to the steep slipway where the lifeboat thunders into the water.
Fundraising and Local Committees & Members
The RNLI relies totally upon fundraising and has no public body support. I have sailed in many parts of the world where no rescue service was available and many times my thoughts turned to the remarkable marine rescue service of the UK.
The bulk of the fundraising comes from local committees of local lifeboats. These are invariably made up of the lifeboat crews’ families. In St Davids bazaars, coffee mornings, dinners, dances, competitions etc are held in a relentless effort to support the RNLI.
This also provides a secret or hidden benefit of the RNLI and that is the local bonding of families to one cause – the saving of lives at sea.
The funding of the RNLI by private donation has allowed it to establish itself as the foremost marine rescue service in the world without public funding or political restraints. Above all though the dedication of the front line crewmen with their unquestionable heroism and dedication and the understanding and support of their families provide the foundation for the utilisation of public donations to such a good cause.