Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

New era begins on the water

August 29th, 2015

DSC02837THERE WAS something rather emotional about standing at the Montrose Lifeboat Station with several hundred other enthusiastic lifeboat supporters to welcome the RNLI’s first Shannon class all-weather lifeboat to go on service in Scotland.

At ten minutes past one, precisely, all the oil support vessels in the harbour sounded off their hooters in a booming fanfare to welcome the arrival in the port of Number 13-10, the new lifeboat’s recognition number – a neat touch on the part of the RNLI’s marketing people.

RNLB Ian Grant Smith turned into the harbour escorted by a flotilla which included the Montrose inshore lifeboat, Nigel A Kennedy, and RNLB Moonbeam which the new boat is replacing after 25 years service.

Dwarfed by the huge support boats the contrast was marked, yet how welcome the lifeboat would be if any of them should be threatened with foundering in a wicked easterly gale on the north-east’s rocky coast.

The lifeboat holds a special place in the life of Montrose and of Ferryden, the former fishing village across the estuary of the River South Esk from Montrose.

My own memories go back to the 1940/50s when we lived in Montrose and occasionally I heard the maroons – explosive rockets sent up to alert the lifeboat crew to a call out. When the maroons went up crew members dropped whatever they were doing, or jumped out of bed if it was the middle of the night, and there are stories of the crew running down the street pulling on their waterproof clothing

Then the lifeboat station was situated in the rivermouth just below the leading light, a navigational light for shipping entering the harbour. The lifeboat was launched down a slipway and several times I was on board with my father for an exercise.

The late Alec Nicoll, who will be remembered by older Montrosians and Ferrydeners, was the Launcher. He knocked out a retaining bolt and, with the engine turning, the Good Hope slid down the slipway and entered the water with a terrific bow wave of spray. It was tremendously exciting for a youngster.

Tot of rum
When I was older I had further opportunities to go out on exercises as an observer. Sometimes an “unofficial” tot of rum was handed round to crew and observers. I can admit it now, but I didn’t terribly enjoy the taste of the dark rum, but there was no way I would refuse it. I wasn’t going to be thought of as a wimp in that company!

Just in what regard the lifeboat in Montrose is held was brought home to me one flag day, collecting for the RNLI. A young woman put a folded £5 note into the lifeboat-shaped collecting tin. £1 notes were still in circulation and, while I certainly didn’t want to turn away such a generous donation, I felt I should point out just how generous she was being in case she had meant to give only £1. “If the lifeboat hadn’t been there for my uncle during the war” she said, “I wouldn’t have him now”.

And it was encouraging to see how the idea of the lifeboat appealed to young kids who wanted to put their Saturday pennies into the collecting tin.

Losses at sea were an everyday part of the hazardous lives of the fisherfolk of the east coast of Scotland. In 1800 the fishing community at Montrose and Ferryden decided to do something about it and a lifeboat was formally commissioned with a full-time volunteer crew to provide aid to fishermen and other mariners in distress.

Historic milestone
What was a historic milestone it was. Putting it in context, this was before the Battle of Waterloo, the 200th anniversary of that victory which we are celebrating this year. More significantly for lifeboats, it was before Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. While Nelson and Wellington were knocking nine bells out of the French, the Montrose lifeboat crew were ready to row out in the worst of weathers – no engine power in those days – to the aid of ‘those in peril on the sea’.

The lifeboat station at Montrose has been continuously manned since its establishment in 1800 and is the oldest in Scotland. I query whether it cannot be regarded as the oldest in the United Kingdom on the grounds that, so far as I can trace, no other station that might claim the distinction has been continuously manned from the outset.

RNLB Ian Grant Smith led the flotilla up to the lifeboat station and the welcoming crowd. The Shannon is the first of the RNLI’s all-weather lifeboats to be powered by waterjets rather than propellers, making them the fastest and most manoeuvrable lifeboats in the RNLI fleet and greatly increasing their capability. She can stop on the traditional sixpence, as the coxswain demonstrated with much churning of white water and several bows and curtsies to the audience before tying up at her new berth.

And, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed if you hope to get a sustaining tot of rum if you are rescued by the lifeboat – it’s no longer carried on board.

Written on Saturday, August 29th, 2015 at 10:27 am for Weekly.