• Morgan Fagg

Have you ever applied for a dream job?

There are plenty of interesting jobs in the world, I once turned down a job working in a ski-lodge in the Alps, turned down a job offer working as cabin crew for an Irish airline, taught English in the Pyrenees, spent a year in a student union, a year in journalism and a few years working in Dáil Eireann. Now, I’m applying for a dream job in Athlone, why don’t you?

I was e-mailed an advertisement looking for a Lifeboat Press Officer and I decided to apply for the job even though I don’t live in Athlone anymore which is an ESSENTIAL requirement for this dream job.

I should point out that this is a voluntary role but ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the fast boats that face out to sea when the weather gets bad and my love of the RNLI started with their Arun class lifeboat Margaret Frances Love.

The orange boats which vary in size from dingy to trawler size vessels are simply incredible. I have been lucky enough to have been onboard three lifeboats without needing their assistance.

These orange and blue boats are self righting boats which means they can correct their position if capsized. In order to do this I think their engines have special oil reserves that allow the engine to spin 360º.

As impressive as these machines are and I have seen three of the larger vehicles up close, it is their crew that are ready and willing to go and help others that make them so impressive.

As professional as their crews might be, they are actually volunteers prepared to venture out in stormy seas and dangerous conditions to assist people in difficulties 365 days a year.

When I was around 12 years old, I got to see onboard an Arun class Lifeboat based at Valencia Island. My sisters were doing a PADI diving course and Martin Moriaty took us for a short spin when the 52 foot Margaret Frances Love needed to be fueled up.

A few years later, Valancia took charge of the new flagship vessel, The Stern Class Lifeboat named John and Margaret Doig 17-07 which seemed to dwarf the impressive Arun Class vessel.

Named after the largest river in England, The Stern is still the RNLI's largest lifeboat.

Margaret Frances Love number 52-23 was fifty two feet long and I think their hull numbers represent their length with the newer Lifeboats embracing the metric system which is why the slightly bigger Stern Class starts with the number 17 and the 16 metre Arun started with the number 52.

At almost 19 knots, the Arun was almost twice as fast as the boats it replaced and it total 46 boats were build between 1971 and 1990, All have been retired from RNLI service since 2008 but some of these Aruns have probably found life rescuing lives in other countries.

I was fortunate enough to get onboard the new ship which arrived in Valencia in 1996 and see what it could do. I got to see it's two powerful 1,000+ horsepower Caterpillar engines. This amazing machine could take a hell of a lot of people onboard if needed and there was a cabin inside that could hold a small group of people in a secure seated compartment. I think the lifeboat can accommodate 47 people and still self-right itself and almost 200 people at full capacity.

While in Baltimore in Cork, I got to see the Tyne class Hilda Jarrett there which was having an event that allowed children onboard. I think it might have been the blessing of the boats.

I was with members of Athlone Sub Aqua at the time who were diving wrecks off the coast of Cork but I was the only one young enough to get onboard the lifeboat.

While the club was diving the Stephen Whitney wreck, I got to climb onto Fastnet Rock and see the new lighthouse there and the stub of the old one. The Stephen Whitney was 1,000 tonne sailing vessel that sank in 1847 with the loss of 92 passengers and crew.

We ventured out to the site of The Glendore Sub, U260 the following day where we encountered engine trouble in our large RIB and I was half expecting us to have to call out Baltimore Lifeboat.

Sea sick after the World War II submarine adventure, I stayed behind the next day as the club headed out to dive the Kowloon Bridge which is Europe's largest wreck.

While over-looking the harbour in Baltimore in Cork, one of the divers pointed out that the lifeboat was an Arun Class lifeboat and he was stunned when I corrected him that it wasn't, as the Arun had a pilot's wheelhouse on top that the Tyne didn't. He was speechless but the old Sub Aqua clubhouse in Athlone had a RNLI poster that listed the types of vessels in and around Ireland.

The old clubhouse The Tigh-na-Mara was a barge based by the railway bridge and army barracks in Athlone and the clubhouse was actually a 1917 lifeboat itself.

Athlone Sub Aqua continues to do fantastic work for the midlands, SAR, body searches and water cover at events where they will be ready with divers and snorkelers should someone fall in the Shannon.

On one such night as a junior snorkeler, we were doing water cover during a fireworks display over the town and at the end of the night I was asked to shine a powerful flashlight as the coxswain brought the RIB back to its trailer based at Coosan Yacht Club.

There was a fog over the river and as dark as it was at 1am in the morning, the flashlight just reflected the mist back at us so the coxswain told me to turn off the torch and just powered up and flew down the river he knew so well. What an incredible experience.

One Athlone Sub Aqua member who grew up on the Shannon, went onto command the Navy's Diving Unit and two navel vessels, L.E. Aisling and L.E. Orla. His parents both taught swimming and lifesaving in Athlone and Comd. John Leech went on to become CEO for Water Safety Ireland.

Over the last ten years, the RNLI has come to Athlone and while the Lifeboat is much smaller than the three I have seen before off Cork and Kerry, we are fortunate to have so many people prepared to train, travel and be ready at a moment's notice to launch their orange RIB from Coosan Point and head anywhere on Lough Ree wherever they are needed.

The Dorothy Mary, an Atlantic Class fast speed RIB arrived in Athlone the year I left for Spain and I have yet to photograph it. I have a cousin volunteering which is a nice tradition since our great grandfather and his namesake was a member of the Coastguard over 100 years ago.

Growing up in the Midlands and moving to the centre of Spain, ships and submarines have always fascinated me even if I rarely get to see any, and the RNLI with their proud tradition of brave volunteers helping their community will always stand out just like the orange and blue boats you see in coastal towns around the British Isles.

For nearly 200 years, the RNLI has been there and lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives but the costs have increased considerably over the last two centuries. The Lifeboat house in Valencia was built in 1864 at a cost of £168. Margaret Frances Love 52-23 arrived in 1973 and cost almost half a million pounds where as her replacement in 1996 was almost two million pounds.

The Lifeboat in Baltimore, Hilda Jarrett was built at a cost of £560,000 in 1988 but her predecessor an Oakley Class lifeboat only cost in £75,306 in 1984 but then again The Hilda Jarrett was twice as fast. These Lifeboats operate 365 days a year and in her lifetime, The Hilda Jarrett was called out 356 times and rescued 346 lives.

The Hilda Jarrett was the fifth new lifeboat to come to Baltimore, since The Shamrock arrived in 1919 at a cost of €6,013. Over the last century, Baltimore has had six lifeboats in service starting with The Shamrock. Well, six not including their RIBs, The Sarah Wilson, The Robert, The Charles Henry and the Tamar class all weather lifeboat Alan Massey 16-22 which arrived in Baltimore on 15th February 2012 to replace the slipway launched Tyne class Hilda Jarrett 47-24.

One time when I was in Dun Laoghaire, I got to see the RNLI in action as their brand new D class lifeboat Realt Na Mara sped into the harbour towards their boathouse and I got to take some nice shots of it as it arrived.

Their Trent class lifeboat Anna Livia 14-05 was quietly moored nearby.

The Trent class was the RNLI first all-weather lifeboat capable of 25 knots and a range of 250 nautical miles, setting the precedent for the RNLI fleet today.

Dun Laoghaire has lost many brave men over the years and lifeboats too. 17 died saving others.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute and their crews will always amaze me so when I heard that they needed a press officer for Athlone, I thought I would apply for this dream job.

You don’t need to get wet to help the RNLI but as I live in Spain, I think someone closer to the boat would be a thousand times better.

You can support the RNLI in many ways and one of the easiest ways to do that is to put some change in their charity boxes like the ones you might see in Seans Bar but if you are interested in the media and public relations or know someone who is, maybe this dream job is for you.

It is a voluntary role, I know but how many voluntary positions allow you to support your community in such an important way?

After years involved in rescuing people around Irish waters, the RNLI has decided to take their time honoured tradition of naming Lifeboats after rivers and named their latest model after the longest river in Ireland, The Shannon.

Each year, the RNLI depends on donations to help those at sea, donations that fuel boats, train volunteers and buy boots and boats and essential equipment needed in coastal communities.

Support your local crew and the fantastic work that they do.

2020 is an extraordinary year so why not be extraordinary?

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