‘I was so thrilled that it meant so much’: Hero’s welcome for new Skegness lifeboat

The new Shannon class lifeboat - the   Joel and April Grunnill - arrives in Skegness. ANL-170128-150313001
The new Shannon class lifeboat - the Joel and April Grunnill - arrives in Skegness. ANL-170128-150313001

The new Skegness Lifeboat has arrived - watched by hundreds of people who crowded on to the beach to give the vessel a hero’s welcome.

Five volunteer RNLI crew members brought the £2.2m state-of-the-art Shannon class lifeboat ashore, with patient onlookers who had braved the cold winds showing their delight by clapping and cheering.

I couldn’t believe the number of people on the beach waiting to see her arrive

April Grunnill, RNLI box secretary

Members of the public had travelled to Skegness from all over the country to get a first glimpse of the vessel and see history in the making.

Thousands more from as far away as Florida watched the Skegness Standard coverage on Facebook Live, sending good wishes to the crew for the work they do saving lives along the coast.

The crew had arrived at the RNLI’s headquarters at Poole in Dorset on Sunday to complete conversion training on the faster, waterjet-powered, Shannon class vessel.

They began the journey to Skegness on Thursday and could be seen far away on the horizon from around noon as they waited to bring the vessel ashore at 1.17pm - to coincide with her fleet number.

Accompanying them for the arrival at Skegness were all-weather lifeboats from Mablethorpe and Hunstanton, along with inshore lifeboats.

For some it was a sad day at they watched the current RNLI Mersey class all-weather lifeboat the Lincolnshire Poacher - which has served the coast since 1990, carrying out 352 rescues and saving 195 people - being launched to join the welcoming fleet.

On board was local RNLI box secretary April Grunnill, who helped fund the lifeboat following the legacy left by former crew and station chairman Joel Grunnill, who sadly passed away in 2014. Both April and Joel have been lifelong supporters on the RNLI and the vessel is named in their honour.

After arriving back at the Lifeboat Station, she said: “What a wonderful day! I was so proud to see our lifeboat arriving home in Skegness. I first saw her in Poole, at the RNLI headquarters, and felt very emotional the first time I saw our names on the side of the lifeboat but today I just tried to enjoy the occasion.

“I couldn’t believe the number of people on the beach waiting to see her arrive – I was so thrilled to see that it meant so much to people in Skegness.”

Alan Fisher, Skegness RNLI Lifeboat operations manager, said he was also overwhelmed with the number of people who had turned out to welcome the new lifeboat.

He said: “It’s an incredibly big deal for the town and ensures the safety of the coast for the next 50 years.”

The Shannon is the first modern RNLI all-weather lifeboat to be propelled by water jets instead of propellers. Designed by an in-house RNLI team, it is the most agile all-weather lifeboat in the charity’s fleet and has been developed with the safety and welfare of RNLI volunteer crews as a key priority.

Later today, it will have a well-earned wash down before training begins again tomorrow, alongside another vessel on loan from Lowestoft.

The crew now faces 10 days of training on the new boat before it goes into service and the Lincolnshire Poacher leaves Skegness for the last time.

Mark Perry, senior launch and retrieve instructor from the Lifeboat College at Poole said: “Training will continue over the next week and we will then start passing out the crew.”

Lee Firman, RNLI manager for the area, said: “I will be back in 10 days to put the crew through a series of exercises and assess the competency of the crew and make sure they can work the lifeboat safely.”

Members of the public will get a second opportunity to welcome the Joel and April Grunnill at its official naming ceremony on April 1, April Grunnill’s birthday.