Welcomed back like an old friend, Whitby’s lifeboat returned home last week after undergoing major repairs.
The George and Mary Webb had been damaged after the dramatic rescue of a stricken yacht and its eight crew in March, but now the 18-year-old Trent-class vessel is back, and coxswain Mike Russell says she’s as good as the day she launched.
After 17 years’ service, the George and Mary Webb is the second-longest serving RNLI lifeboat, behind the Mary Ann Hepworth, but Mike said: “She’s still more than fit for service. Hull-wise, she’s as good as the day she was made. Without a doubt that’s all down to the maintenance of the crew.”
The all-weather lifeboat’s hull was built by Green Marine of Lymington and fitted out by Souter Shipyard at Cowes between February and December 1995.
The Trent class vessel was built at a cost of £1,103,008, provided out of a gift from The Mary Webb Trust and arrived in Whitby on April 2 1996.
The following day she was undergoing sea trials off Whitby when the lifeboatmen heard on the radio that the Dutch barge Jodie was taking in water. They escorted it back to Whitby, with the assistance of the outgoing lifeboat, the City of Sheffield.
She was placed on active service on April 10 and her first call-out was to Codonga Two, which had lost a bilge keel and was taking on water on April 18.
On June 12 that year a naming ceremony for the new lifeboat took place, when the lifeboat was formally handed over to the RNLI by Mrs Cherry Nash and Mrs Jacqueline Fancett, daughters of the late Mr and Mrs Webb. It was formally christened George and Mary Webb by HRH The Duchess of Kent.
Mike said: “The people whose parents bequeathed the money, they’re still in contact as to what the boat’s doing and where it’s been.”
When launched she was a state-of-the-art vessel and her airtight wheelhouse meant she could completely capsize, but would self-right. This has never happened while on active service, but Mike said there were four occasions when the vessel has come close to tipping over in heavy seas. To prevent this, he explained that if the boat goes to a certain angle, rather than it roll over and expose the propellor and engines, potentially damaging them, the engines cut to a minimum. Mike added: “We’ve had her over where the switch has activated, but she’s always come right.”
At 14m long, she is one of the largest lifeboats between the Tees and the Humber. Her size, speed and horsepower allows the George and Mary Webb to conduct rescues out of the reach of other lifeboats.
Whitby’s trawler fleet meant a large vessel was considered necessary along this stretch of coastline.
She uses in the region of 80 gallons of fuel an hour and has a range of ten hours. At 25 knots the vessel has a range of 250 nautical miles, but this increases as the speed reduces.
One of the saddest days in the George and Mary Webb’s history took place in November 2007 when the cabin cruiser Last Call attempted to head out to sea, despite a gale force eight warning being in place. The vessel got into severe difficulty as soon as it left the shelter of the harbour and capsized, just 100 yards from the sea walls. The lifeboat was put out to sea to rescue the boat’s occupants, two of whom were thrown into the sea, but sadly the conditions were too severe for anyone to survive in the water.
On October 30 2000, the lifeboat was launched into some of the most horrendous weather anyone at the station can remember. A force 11 north-westerly wind whipped up heavy seas and six-metre swells and the stricken coble Mary Ann was being driven towards the shore at Runswick Bay. As George and Mary Webb left the harbour the radar failed and, with visibility down to a few yards because of the driving rain and spray, the crew undertook the treacherous journey to find the coble. 60 mph winds and rough seas failed to prevent the successful rescue of the boat, towed into Whitby less than two hours later.
Similar rain was experienced in March, when the boat was damaged, and Mike described the rescue: “One of the worst weather she was in was last month. In the waves and gale, the best speed we could make in that was 8 knots, just a bit faster than walking pace. You couldn’t go any faster or you would break the boat up.”
The boat suffered severe engine trouble as it travelled back to Whitby, leading to the lengthy repairs it received last month at Amble Boat Company.
At 18 years of age, George and Mary Webb is no longer state-of-the-art. However, there are no plans to replace the vessel just yet. The RNLI is rolling out its new Shannon class fleet, placing the ailing Mersey class. Until this is complete, the Trent and Severn class boats will remain on active service. “Our boat is a good boat,” said Mike. “She’s more than fit for purpose.”
This article was produced with the assistance of Whitby Lifeboats: An Illustrated History by Nicholas Leach.