Oarsome effort to restore Whitby's former lifeboat Robert & Ellen Robson

It’s hard to imagine now the manpower needed against the monumental strength of wind and waves in a storm.

By Alexandra Wood
Wednesday, 9th March 2022, 2:09 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th March 2022, 2:10 pm

But until 1957, RNLB Robert & Ellen Robson was still in service in Whitby with 10 members of crew providing the muscle power on the oars.

Restoration work on the lifeboat, the centrepiece of Whitby’s RNLI museum, has now reached the half-way stage.

For the last six months she has been at Coates Marine, a boatyard in the Upper Harbour, where volunteers have spent hundreds of hours renovating her.

The old lifeboat, Robert and Ellen Robson, is lowered onto the restored carriage at Coates Marine, Whitby.

Work is now beginning on the museum itself, which is having its first major renovation in more than a century, before the lifeboat moves back in and can be painted and varnished.

Built in 1918, the lifeboat originally served at Tranmore Lifeboat Station in Ireland then at Aberdeen, before coming to Whitby in May 1947 as the No 2 Lifeboat.

Whitby has had a motor lifeboat since 1919, but the older model was still routinely used to escort fishing vessels into harbour in bad weather.

One of her most unusual launches was on October 5 1949 when she was used to rescue 17 geology students from Aberdeen University who were cut off on the infamous Black Nab.

Curator Neil Williamson said: “The building the museum is in dates to 1896 and no-one has really spent any money on it since then.

“We are handing over to Core, our contractors, who are going to install a new floor and underfloor heating to preserve the exhibits which up until now have been allowed to sit in the damp.

“We will also have new glass doors so people will be able to see the boat 24/7 rather than wooden doors.”

The Robert & Ellen Robson was the last rowing lifeboat to be in service with the RNLI.

It had a crew of 13, with 10 on the oars and a coxswain.

Mr Williamson said: “I was a lifeboatman in my earlier days and I take my hat off to them. They were going to sea in an open boat with a lack of freeboard and they didn’t know whether they were going to come back or not.

“You see our 47ft lifeboat and they put the throttle down and it goes through the waves, but the old lifeboat relied on human power.”

Mr Williamson said they had now done all the work they could in the boatyard and needed to wait before the lifeboat was indoors in a stable temperature to finish the job off.

He said: “It’s in excellent condition, but the paintwork was showing its age.

"We are taking it back to the condition it was in when it first arrived in Whitby in 1947.

"The boat has a rich history of saving lives at sea in Whitby so it is very important that we keep this special piece of RNLI history maintained.”

The volunteer-run shop reopens later this month while the museum, which will have new interactive exhibits, should open in July.

The RNLI is appealing for volunteers to help out.