On Friday, February 14th 2020 we gave an official welcome to Fishguard’s historic Charterhouse Lifeboat at its new home in Hancock’s Yard. The ceremony was conducted by the Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed, Sara Edwards, and was attended by local dignitaries including the Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council, Simon Hancock, and the Mayors of Pembroke, Pembroke Dock, Neyland, Milford, Fishguard and Goodwick.
Charterhouse was a Fishguard self-righting lifeboat, one of the first to have been designed with an inboard auxiliary engine. She was built from mahogany strips over elm frames. In 1920, its crew received bravery awards for their part in the rescue of Hermina. She was retired in 1930 and used as a private motor yacht, Marion, until she was donated to charity in 2009. It came to the Society in 2020 and is being partly restored as a static exhibit.
The other two motor lifeboats built alongside Charterhouse were for Stronsay and Stromness, both on Orkney islands, and in December 1904 the RNLI arranged for representatives from the Orkney stations to meet with the Fishguard group in Wales for a tour to visit, inspect and try out a selection of different lifeboats to help them each decide just what their own needs were. Their trip started at Barry Docks, near Cardiff, and included Little Haven, two sites on the Llyn Peninsula and at least two on Anglesey. Subsequently, Fishguard chose a 40 foot ‘Self-Righter’, Stromness a 42 foot ‘Self-Righter’ and Stronsay a 43 foot ‘Watson’ design.
These would be the first three lifeboats the RNLI designed and built to have an auxiliary petrol engine and feature the tunnel to house the propeller. (By 1900 a few steam lifeboats had been built. These were steel hulls, not timber built and at least two used water jets rather than propellers. The others may have had tunnels.) It was planned that the petrol engines would be 24 BHP, 30 BHP and 40 BHP respectively although there is evidence that Charterhouse was actually fitted with a larger engine.
The construction, common at the time, was all timber. The frames are Canadian elm and the skin is made of two layers of Honduras mahogany in strips about 150 mm wide. These are angled in opposing directions and laid diagonally. A layer of oiled calico forms a waterproof membrane between the two layers.
The term ‘Self Righting’ is self explanatory and is achieved by large buoyancy tanks. at each end and a cast iron keel that weighs two and a quarter tons.
The RNLI had previously experimented by adding motors to a few existing hulls and were aware of problems arising from placing a propeller right at the stern in the ‘conventional’ position. There were vulnerability and safety issues but in a rough sea the propeller could be out of the water as the boat pitched causing a loss of power and the engine to race. The solution was to move the propeller about two metres forward and house it inside a tunnel formed under the wooden hull. This is very clear to see within the hull of
and it seems that later boats were built with the propeller a little less forward than the position seen in her hull.
Although the original Tylor engine was removed many years ago the original drawings of the installation survive and show details such as a pair of ‘slipway tanks’ and the position of these is still clearly evident in the surviving hull. These allowed the engine to be run if the boat was out of the water by providing cooling water for the engine and the water-cooled silencer and exhaust, once in the sea then water was taken from two of the relieving tubes.
During her working life in Fishguard
was involved in several arduous rescues.
Its first real test was aiding the St. David's lifeboat, 'Gem', in attending the ketch 'Democrat', which was in danger of hitting the rocks in Ramsey Sound.
The most notable rescue was that of 7 members of the crew of the Dutch schooner 'Hermina'; the Coxswain was awarded a gold medal, three silvers were awarded and the rest of the crew received bronze medals. We have full details of this rescue and the award ceremony. The Dutch Queen and government also made gifts of watches to all crew members in appreciation of their valiant work. One of these engraved watches is in our museum.