Dr W (Billy) Brown (centre) and Desmond (Dessie) Rogers (right) with RNLI offcials
Photo: RNLI Portaferry
The Cloughey/Portavogie Lifeboat was withdrawn from service in 1978 due to improvements taking place in Portavogie harbour and representations were made to the RNLI by Portaferry Sailing Club and others to provide lifeboat coverage for Strangford Lough and its approaches. In 1979 the RNLI agreed to trial a single engined 'C' Class lifeboat at Portaferry.
One of the first shouts of the 'trial lifeboat' was on 23 September 1979 when in the late afternoon it was returning after an exercise in the Irish Sea and was called to respond to a SOS from the fishing vessel 'Rueben Bulmer II' with engine failure, giving a last known location as 3 NM South of Portavogie Harbour. The casualty vessel was sighted by the lifeboat crew 1.5 NM East of the North Rock and on arrival on-scene it was found to have a faulty fuel system. Two persons were on board, the skipper and his son. The lifeboat stood by the casualty until the MFV Miss Josephine arrived to tow the casualty to Portavogie. The lifeboat then escorted both vessels into Portavogie and was then recovered and taken by road trailer back to Portaferry. The lifeboat crew on the shout were Jackie Harrison, John Murray (Sen) and K Wilson.
Another shout for the 'trial lifeboat' occured a few days later, on 6 October 1979, again whilst the lifeboat was on exercise near Round Island, Strangford Lough. The call was to assist a small boat with an orange hull reported to be in trouble at the Strangford Bar. The lifeboat proceeded from Round Island to the Strangford Bar arriving at 15:20. After a lengthy search of the area no orange hulled vessel could be located and the lifeboat returned to the station. The crew on board during this shout were Tommy Mason and Herbie Taylor.
Many of the initial exercises in the 'trial lifeboat' were used to gather information about boat headings, transits and to survey suitable launching or landing sites within Strangford Lough and along the nearby Irish Sea coastline. With no Decca or GPS available for inshore lifeboats in 1979 these recorded compass headings and bearings were used time after time by the lifeboat crew to effect successful rescues. Since the range of the small single engined 'C' class lifeboat was somewhat limited, on many occasions the lifeboat was transported by road to be launched at one location and recovered, sometimes at another. In this way maximum knowledge of the local sea area was quickly built up by the crew.
It soon became apparent that there was indeed a need for a RNLI Lifeboat Station to cover Strangford Lough and its approaches and in early in 1980 the good news was received that the RNLI had decided to establish a permanent lifeboat station in Portaferry on 1st May 1980 using a single engined D class lifeboat..
On 19 March 1980 the first meeting of the new 'Portaferry Lifeboat Station Committee' took place in the Queens University marine biology center in Portaferry. Those present were;
Col. William Brownlow - Chairman, D K Elliott - Treasurer, Dr Billy Brown - Station Honorary Secretary, Leonard Lawson - representing the Ladies Guild and Dr Pat Boaden of QUB.
During the meeting it was agreed to:
1. Open a Lifeboat Station account at the Northern Bank, Portaferry
2. The Chairman to approach Sir John Andrews to become the first President of Portaferry RNLI Lifeboat Station.
On 28 April 1980 a meeting was held in Portaferry by Tony Course, Inspector of Lifeboats Ireland, with the station's committee at which the operational parameters were established for the new station as follows;.
The station will be operational from 1 May 1980 using a twin-engined D Class lifeboat from late spring to autumn each year and in daylight hours only.
a. Max operational wind speed - force 6
b. Max operational wind speed at Strangford Bar - force 6 but reduced to force 5 during ebb tides in winds N thru E to SSW.
c. Obligitory radiotelephone calls required if lifeboat is leaving Strangford Lough;
On leaving: At lifeboat's departure from Portaferry quay, before Rock Angus, clear of the race.
On returning: before the race, after Rock Angus, at the lifeboat's return to Portaferry quay.
d. Radio frequencies to be used:
Call on Ch16 and leave or always return radio to Ch16. Work as directed by coastguard on Ch 0 or Ch 67 but otherwise leave radio on Ch 16.
e. Callsigns to use: "Portaferry ILB" - for lifeboat & use "Portaferry Base" - for Lifeboat Station. Use the portable Pye Bantam for the base station radio.
f. Maroons: 2 to be kept at 212 Shore Street and 6 to be kept in the boathouse at QUB
Thus, on 1 May 1980, Portaferry Lifeboat Station was born to carry on the historic life-saving work of the former Cloughey and Cloughey/Portavogie lifeboat stations.
In 1980 the station's crew list was recorded as;
HELMSMEN: Dessie Rogers (Sen Helm), John Murray Sen, John Murray Jnr, Desmond Swail, Mark Browne, Jackie Harrison & Philip Johnston.
CREW: Billy Ellison, Leonard Lawson, Tommy Mason, Frank Rogers, Gabriel Rogers, Heather Brown, Trevor Lawson, Padrig Rogers, Billy Reid, Herbie Taylor, Henrie Taylor, Graham Savage, Allison Ashworth & Jonathan Barry.
Such was the enthusiasm of the local community that a 'Junior Lifeboat' was established, as recorded in the minutes of 8 June 1981, to encourage local youth to become members of the crew. The 'Junior Lifeboat' was under the supervision of John Murray, Phillip Johnston, Herbie Taylor and Tommy Mason. Members of the new 'Junior Lifeboat' were recorded as, Rickie Brown, William Brown, Danny Miskelly, Tommy McNamara, David Ritchie, Martin Swail, Paul Boaden, Patrick Mullen, William Kyle, Ruth Taylor, Gwen Taylor and Garret McBrian. The last recorded mention of the 'Junior Lifeboat' was in the minutes of 25 August 1982.
In the same minutes of 25 August 1982 there was the first record of discussions about the building of a 'new boathouse'. Following a pre-meditated explosion on 27 August 1979 aboard the small motor yacht 'Shadow V' off Oilean Ruadh, Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, two teenage boys, an 82 year old woman and the Lord Louis Mounbatten of Burma were killed and several others were seriously injured. A memorial fund was established by the Belfast Newsletter in memory of those who lost their lives. In 1982 it was decided to use the £10,600 raised by the fund for the 'saving of lives at sea' and to this end it was decided to assist in providing a purpose-built boathouse for the housing of the Portaferry Lifeboat. At the same meeting on 25 August a committee was formed to persue the matter, consisting of Leonard Lawson, John Murray, Herbie Taylor and Major William Brownlow, the station's chairman.
After several years of planning and the hard work to raise additional funds by the station's Lifeboat Guild, a boathouse was completed in 1986.