I’ve long held a fascination with the Swanage lifeboat. When we first started holidaying in Swanage when I was only three years old we always stayed in one of the Coastguard Cottages adjacent to the lifeboat station. My parents would always wake me and my brother up in the middle of the night if they heard the flares being fired that indicated that the lifeboat was about to be launched down its slipway. I’ve loved the iconic orange and blue livery of the lifeboats for as long as I can remember.
The current Mersey Class Swanage lifeboat, the RNLB Robert Charles Brown, is not long for this world; it is due to be replaced next year with a state-of-the-art Shannon Class boat, and to make room the boathouse is being completely rebuilt. This meant that, on our last visit to Swanage back in June, the current boat was moored in Swanage Bay. This represented a great opportunity: usually the boat is parked in its boathouse, and this is the best view you can get of her. With her moored out in the open I was able to get a bunch of photographs I’d not normally be able to get.
We first saw her as we walked along towards Peveril Point, giving me a low down angle against a clear horizon.
As I shot, a man in a small rowboat came past, setting a nice scene.
As we walked further along the coast, the background rotated around to the cliffs of Ballard Down. I switched to my 70-300mm telephoto to get up close with her.
At full zoom, I could get pretty close.
The rolling Purbeck Hills proved to be a great backdrop.
As we continued to wander along Peveril Point, the background turned to Swanage itself. We got an almost completely side-on view of the Robert Charles Brown, and I loved the way the sunlight was reflecting off her hull.
We hit the end of Peveril Point and looped around up the hill. From this higher perspective I could get a few shots of the lifeboat against the brilliant blue of the ocean.
Despite all of these shots of the Swanage lifeboat in the sea, I don’t think I’ve ever photographed her running down the slipway and hitting the water – if I have, it’ll be somewhere at my parents’ house because it would have been shot on film when I was a boy. I missed the opportunity to shoot her last ever launch down the slipway earlier this year before the existing boathouse and slipway was demolished to make way for the new (if you want to see what a launch looks like, Andy Lyons, a photographer who is a member of the Swanage lifeboat crew, took this photo of the final launch). When the works are finished and the new boat is delivered it will be the only slipway-launched Shannon Class lifeboat in the country, so maybe, if I’m lucky (or rather, if someone else is unlucky and needs a lifeboat) I’ll get a chance to photograph the new boat hitting the water.
The Swanage lifeboat is run by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity with the sole purpose of saving lives at sea, and a charity I’m proud to support. Please consider visiting their website to find out more or make a donation.