RNLI: 2006

Here’s a great fundraising tea towel from the RNLI (it was founded, in 1824, as National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck but renamed Royal National Lifeboat Institute in 1854). It’s a map of Great Britain and Ireland showing all the Lifeboat Stations and the different forms of vessel at each site. It’s an RNLI tea towel – it does what it says on the tin. Looking in detail, I’m amazed at how many Lifeboat Stations there are and where they are: did you know there are Lifeboat Stations at Thurso or Seahouses or Dungerness or Torbay or Borth or Portrush?

Volunteers for RNLI raise huge amounts of money to buy new boats or keep the organisation going; they sell enormous amounts of gifts from pens and pencils, to soft toys and tea towels. I remember an RNLI stall at an event at Dounby School in Orkney, celebrating the journey of the torch for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2013 or the shop in Padstow in 2004. As someone who collects tea towels, it makes a good fundraiser.

But that is not why I bought this tea towel.  I’m not sure I’d given that much thought to things like RNLI Christmas cards because my charities of choice tended to be condition-specific like Epilepsy Action or Alzheimer’s Society. But my views changed. The reason I bought this tea towel was to remind me of being rescued by the Mallaig Lifeboat. When something like that happens you want to remember it, be grateful for it and hope you are never in that situation again, and to tell everyone you know about how vital the services of the RNLI are.

It wasn’t dramatic and I didn’t get wet. I was on a weeks holiday, on a small boat with 8 passengers. It was a cruise around some of the most beautiful Islands off the west coast of Scotland. Being a small boat, it could easily pass between the Small Isles, manoeuvring gaps between the rocks. It was great. We started in Oban Harbour and sailed to places like the northern corner of Skye, stopping for a drink in a pub, coming across the actor Ken Stott in his local; spending a day on Canna (see tea towel blog) in the glorious sunshine, with a smoked salmon sandwich; another day on Lunga, an uninhabited island that is home to thousands of pairs of breeding puffins where we sat on the hillside watching them bobbing in and out of their burrows. We spent time on St Kilda, walking along the deserted streets, mixing with Soay sheep and wondering how people scraped a living in such a remote and windswept place. We passed Staffa and the Treshnish Islands and I could almost hear Fingal’s Cave being played. I remember stopping in a secluded bay where guillemots were nesting when the Skipper asked if we liked mussels; we all said we did. The next thing I saw was him jumping overboard saying that we’d have mussels like we had never tasted, for tea. He had gathered a huge amount of mussels, enough to feed all 13 of us, a main meal; he was right, never again have I tasted mussels so good.

Anyway, we were sailing near Rum when there was a very loud screeching noise and suddenly the boat stopped; it felt as though we had gone aground. Actually we had. Apparently the running water between the Small Isles was very low and we clipped a rock that we should have easily been able sail across. The Skipper went underneath the boat to see the damage. His verdict was there didn’t appear to be any serious damage but there would be if he tried to move the boat while the passengers were on it. Lifeboat drill started. We all had full life jackets; we weren’t allowed to move once we were all placed in equal spaces around the boat. Balance was essential. We weren’t allowed to get any of our things that we didn’t have with us; that meant basically we had our cameras. The Skipper called the RNLI Mallaig lifeboat. Fortunately, it was a bright and sunny day but very cold out at sea. We sat there and waited. It was an odd feeling; it seemed that things were ok. We didn’t have to transfer to the boat’s lifeboat but it was a bit scary. Then the Dolphins appeared; loads of them, playing around, keeping our attention occupied. We knew we could take pictures but couldn’t move to get a better shot. After about an hour and a half, we saw the Mallaig Lifeboat on the horizon. It was then very exciting. In fact, the most dangerous bit of all this was stepping from our boat to the Mallaig Lifeboat. Nobody tells you how difficult the transfer was going to be!!

It took us about an hour to get back to dry land. How were we going to get home because this was the last but one day of our holiday and we were in Mallaig, not Oban and we didn’t have our stuff. On land we went for a coffee and to write as many postcards as we could; nothing quite like a bit of drama on a postcard! While we were doing this a tug boat had towed our boat back; the Skipper had examined the boat and knew they just needed a new part which, if he could get it, could be fitted in 30 minutes. One of the crew drove to Aberdeen, a long way, to pick up the part. While this was happening the crew cooked us an amazing evening meal. There were certainly a few cups of tea!

By the following morning we were able to sail back to Oban and finish our journey in peace. What we didn’t realise is that we would be headlines in the local weekly Mallaig newspaper, with a full page story. Suddenly, the RNLI took on another meaning. We were all very grateful to the RNLI and I am quite sure that there was a big increase in RNLI Christmas cards sales that year, and for all the years following.

9 September 2016: Today I found a second RNLI fundraising tae towel which I bought from a stall in Dounby, Orkney on the day that the Commonwealth Games Torch passed through in 2014.  To celebrate the event there were loads of stalls, including an RNLI one. I couldn’t resist this tea towel.


5 February 2017: Today a third RNLI tea towel came to the top of the airing cupboard pile so what I have done is add that one to the Blog; there are now two tea towels at the top of the Blog and one at the bottom. I can safely say that the reason I bought this one is because I had forgotten that I had two others.  At least all three are different!!

Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum



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