The Lifeboat & its Work – Part 12

Most important adjunct to the Life-boat is a Carriage. It is not sufficient that the boat herself be of a superior description, capable of contending safely and successfully with that element in which her work has to be performed, that she shall be able to reach the shipwrecked crew despite the fury of the wind and waves, and bear them securely through the dreaded breakers, which often oppose an insurmountable barrier between them and the envied shore. It is not sufficient that she be well furnished in all respects, and manned by an experienced and courageous crew ; but it is necessary that; she be also supplied with means for transportation on the land, for wrecks may occur at a distance of several miles from the spot where she is stationary, yet close to the shore. In such cases it is usually much safer and more expeditious for the Life-boat to be conveyed by land to that part of the shore contiguous to the wreck, than for her to be rowed or sailed, broadside to the sea, through, perhaps, several miles of broken water. Again, at many places the shore is very flat; and should a wreck occur at low mater, although abreast of the Life-boat Station, she might have to be conveyed a quarter of a mile or more over the ground before she could be floated. which could then only be accomplished at the expense of much labour and loss of valuable time, unless she were placed on a wheeled carriage.

At an early period the attention of the Institution was tumed to the improvement of its Life-boat Carriages and no pains or expense were spared to make them as efficient as possible, not only for transport, but as a means of launching a Life-boat safely, quickly, and effectually. The subject was warmly taken up by the late Colonel J. Nisbett Colquhoun, RA. FRS. Director of the Carriage Department at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. justly celebrated as one of the most able officers of his day.

Colonel Colquhoun became Chairman of the Institution’s Carriage, House, and Rocket Sub-Committee and in 1852 he caused to be built in the Royal Arsenal from his own designs, a Carriage which was supplied to four stations and then abandoned by the Corrmittee, as a permanent pattern, on account of its costliness and weight. It however became the acknowledged pattern, of which all subsequent ones were more or less modifications. 

On the decease of Colonel Colquhoun his successor at the Royal Arsenal, Lieut Colonel A.T. Tulloh, R.A also turned his attention to the subject, and with assistance, and that of Messrs Ransone & Sims  Ipswich, a Carriage on a modified plan was produced. 

It was much cheaper and lighter, but after some extensive trials of four Carriages of that class on the coast, it was also found that it was not sufficiently simple in its arrangements for the crews of Life-boats to handle it successfully. 

The Committee then requested their Inspector of Life-boats to carry out a series of investigations, round the entire coast, and draw up a Report to them embod ing the results of the observations of different persons experienced in the use of the various kinds of Life-boat Transporting Carriages then in use, together with his own opinion of the best way of meeting the necessities of the case.

As the result of those investigations, Captain Ward placed before the Committee designs for a carriage, which he considered would meet the various conditions required in a Life-boat Carriage, as far as was practicable. His plan was approved by the Committee ; and the carriage then built became the model on which the Institution has continued to build to the present time. 

Accordingly we find that each of the Institution’s Life-boats, except a few of the larger size, is provided with a Carriage, on which she is kept in the Boat House ready for immediate transportation to the most favourable position for launching to a wreck. Thus the Life-boat is made available for a greater extent of coast than she otherwise would be, and even when launched from abreast of the Boat House can be much more quickly conveyed to the water’s edge than she could be if not on a carriage. In addition to this ordinary use, a Carriage is of immense service in launching a boat from a beach without her keel touching the ground ; so much so, indeed, that one can be readily launched from a Carriage through a high surf, when without one she could not be got off the beach. An explanation of the manner in which this service is performed will be readily understood.

The Life-boat is drawn to the water’s edge, where the Carriage is turned round, so that its rear end, from which the boat is launched, shall face to seaward. The crew then take their seats in the boat, each rower in his place, with his oar over the side ready to pull, and the coxswain at the helm, or with steering oar in hand. The Carriage is then backed by men or horses or both sufficiently far into the water to ensure the boat being afloat when she is run off the carriage, or if the ground be very soft, or sufficient help unattainable, the Carriage is first backed into the water before the crew get into the boat. Self- detaching ropes, termed launching ropes, previously hooked to each side of the boat’s sternpost, and rove through sheaves at the rear end of the carriage, are then led up the beach, and manned either by assistants, or have one or more horses attached to them. 

When all is ready, the coxswain, watching a favourable moment, gives the word, and the boat, the keel of which rests on small iron rollers, is run off rapidly into the water, with her bow facing the surf. The oarsmen then give way, even before her stern has left the carriage, and she is at once under command, ere the sea has time to throw her back broadside to the shore, which is usually the effect of attempting to launch through a surf from an open beach without a Carriage, unless a hauling-off warp attached to an anchor be permanently laid down outside the surf. This latter plan is only available in a few localities where there is a comparatively steep beach. 

At most of such localities, however, a larger class of Life-boat is stationed, which boats are unprovided with carriages, and at which places permanėnt warps, either double or single, are provided, the former being rove through a block attached to a buoy, moored at a sufficient distance from the shore, and the latter attached to an anchor. These warps are kept out through the winter months, and taken in during the summer. 

Another mode of giving a boat this first necessary impetus is by means of either one or two long poles, called “sets,” from 35 to 50 ft. long, with an iron fork at one end, which being placed against the sternpost of the boat or near it, and pushed by persons on the shore, are often very effective. 

By one or other of these methods the Life-boats of the National Life-Boat Institution have been safely and effectually launched during the twenty-two years of their existence ; whilst the occasions of their failure have been so rare as hardly to be worth consideration.

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