Donaghadee Lifeboat

Centenary of the Donaghadee Lifeboat 1910 – 2010

Donaghadee Lifeboat has a long, proud and distinguished history.From William and Laura, the first lifeboat stationed at Donaghadee in 1910, to the Sir Samuel Kelly in 1953 and today’s state of the art Saxon,the crews of these vessels have performed with bravery and aplomb. We look foreward to celebrating our Centenary and Festival with you.

Donaghadee RNLI celebrate 100 years of saving lives at sea

Date: 10/07/2010

Author: Peter Alcock, Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer

A large crowd gathered today (Saturday 10 July 2010) at Donaghadee harbour to mark the centenary of the first lifeboat put on station in the town.

To commemorate the last hundred years of saving lives at sea in Donaghadee, RNLI volunteer lifeboat crewmembers, fundraisers and supporters organised a special ecumenical service at the Harbour side and hundreds of people turned out to show their support.

Four vintage lifeboats travelled to the town for the event and special guests at the ceremony included the Mayor, Lady Sylvia Hermon and Michael Vlasto, RNLI Operations Director.

The event was held a hundred years to the day, from when Donaghadee RNLI received their first lifeboat, William and Laura. That lifeboat was a Watson Class and came with sails, ten oars and a 40 horsepower petrol engine. The lifeboat cost £3,599, a far cry from the million pound all weather lifeboats that grace the coastline today.

Since then Donaghadee volunteer lifeboat crews have operated a further six lifeboats and launched 906 times, rescuing 757 people.

The Belfast Old Boys Silver Band, the Una Breslin School of Irish Dancers and the Donaghadee Male Voice Choir provided music and entertainment. A special service of thanksgiving was delivered by members of the local clergy before RNLI Operations Director Mr Michael Vlasto OBE presented the Centenary Certificate to Alan Couser, Donaghadee RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager.

The day marked the start of a number of events that are planned over the summer to celebrate the centenary. Donaghadee RNLI has a strong history in the town and the lifeboat crew have recently been awarded a vellum for a rescue they carried out last September in appalling weather conditions, resulting in three lives saved.

Speaking at the event Michael Vlasto OBE said, “ It is a great privilege to be here today to share in this special occasion. A centenary celebration is an important milestone in the life of a station. Donaghadee RNLI has a very active and supportive community and the lifeboat station is at its heart.”

Alan Couser, Lifeboat Operations Manager for Donaghadee RNLI added, Donaghadee RNLI has an illustrious history and has played its part in many rescues around our coastline over the last one hundred years. We look forward to serving our community and to saving lives at sea over the next hundred years.“

The background to the station starts in 1904, when following a number of shipwrecks off the North Down coast, it was agreed that a new lifeboat station was needed. The existing facilities at Groomsport and at Cloughey could not cover the area. Situated near to the entrance to Belfast Lough and alongside the major shipping lanes, Donaghadee with its beautiful harbour was selected as the ideal spot. A team of local businessmen, along with many from the local fishing industry and other boatmen, set up a base and went about financing a lifeboat station and a lifeboat.

Today Donaghadee is home to an all weather Trent Class lifeboat Saxon. The lifeboat has a top speed of around 25 knots and an operating distance of a hundred miles offshore. Saxon is equipped to carry out sea rescues in all type of conditions and situations.

Rafters came from far and wide to compete in the Donaghadee Festival  Centenary lifeboat inaugural raft race.

The sun shone on the thousands of people who lined the shore and harbour to watch as nineteen rafts of all shapes and sizes took to the water to compete in the first raft race in Donaghadee for many a year.

The slipway was packed with bodies as youngsters from the sailing club came ashore from a junior regatta to be met by a mad and wild variety of rafters in fancy dress. There were Michael Jackson lookalikes, Smurfs, Lady fire fighters, Pirates all jostling for position even before they got anywhere near the water.

The three heats got underway just after 1pm with a number of rafts going the wrong way at the start but safety boats helped to get them on back on course.

Giant water pistols and water bags were used by some unscrupulous teams to put off the opposition but despite this unsporting behaviour the winners of the six man race were Gracie’s Growlers, runners up Fire Starters, best ladies Sink or Swim. In the four man the winners were Dark Destroyer followed home by Donaghadee lifeboat with the ladies winner Chardonnay. The best  juniors were Blue Moon, N’Ards sea cadets, most heroic failure Bangor Coastguard and best dressed crew the Tivoli Girls. Thanks go to sponsor Downeys Cars of Newtownards.

The focus then moved to the harbour side where a display of Morris Minor and other vintage cars were arriving to add a splash of colour and variety to the proceedings.

Then the excitement began to build as spectators could see the lifeboat crew racing to board the lifeboat to go to the aid of a burning boat in the harbour with a man overboard. The crowds roared as “Saxon” swept into the harbour with the crew quickly winching the casualty from the water before putting out the fire and getting the boat under tow and back to safety. The crowds drifted away in the late afternoon sunshine all having had a wonderful day and week as part of the lifeboat Centenary.

A successful dinner and dance was held in the golf club with all attending having a great evening.

On Thursday evening the harbour had seen the NI fire and rescue service team arrive in three rescue vehicles to demonstrate the latest fire fighting techniques as well as offering advice on how members of the public can keep themselves safe.

Shortly after, music could be heard coming from the community centre as the Dee Dancers got in the mood with music from Liam McLaughlin who had a packed hall dancing the night away.

Friday saw the last opportunity for folk to visit the lifeboat in the Centenary week and those who turned up on a sunny but chilly evening were entertained by the Comber Silver Band who soon warmed every one up with a selection of music for all tastes.

The overwhelming response from every one is that the Centenary has been a tremendous success with lots of visitors from far and wide enjoying the wide variety of entertainment provided.

The RNLI lifeboat organising team wish to thank all our sponsors and supporters but especially the Ards Festival fund, Ards Tourism and the Donaghadee Harbour Commissioners for their help and support.

The next Centenary event is a Ladies Luncheon in the golf club on Friday 3rd September where the speaker will be Dr Janet Gray MBE, the world blind water ski champion who is a truly inspirational speaker not to be missed, with local coxswain Philip McNamara talking about our own lifeboat.

Tickets are £15 and can be obtained from the lifeboat shop, Dunn’s footwear and the golf club office, the event is being sponsored by the Northern Bank.