The Self-Righting Lifeboat: Disaster Strikes

Following several disasters involving Self-Righting Lifeboats, much confidence was lost in operating and crewing these vessels. With the additional loss of 27 lifeboat crew in 1886 after both the Southport and St. Ames lifeboats capsized while on service, many people were beginning to question the reliability of this boats supposed self-righting capabilities. It was at this time that the RNLI decided to replace Stonehaven’s lifeboat- the ‘Star’ despite having been launched for service only 3 times.

circa 1880s – previous lifeboat shed

The ‘Alexander Black’: Saving Lives at Sea

A new 34ft oared Self-Righter was built and gifted to RNLI by Mrs A. Black of London and it was then sent on to Stonehaven where it was christened as the ‘Alexander Black’ in March 1888. In 1889 it was decided that the boatshed was no longer fit for purpose resulting in a new boatshed being built at a cost of £327.15.9d (the equivalent of approximately £22,000 today). The new boatshed was built in a more convenient position for launching and this was made more convenient still when D.Mclean built a slip-way which allowed the lifeboat to be launched directly into the harbour. This is the same boatshed and slip-way used by Stonehaven Lifeboat today!

Lifeboat Shed

The ‘Alexander Black’ was launched on the 15th March 1891 after a barge named ‘Der Zehnte Jurii’ of South Shields found itself in difficulty off the coast of Catterline. After experiencing heavy seas and gale force winds the ‘Der Zehnte Jurii’ was struck by 3 particularly large breaking waves causing the vessel to spring a leak. The ‘Alexander Black’ and its crew were quick to offer assistance, safely rescuing all 7 men on-board.

On the morning of February 21st 1898, a fierce northerly gale sprang up, causing extremely heavy seas thus making the entrance to Stonehaven Harbour extremely dangerous. The ‘Alexander Black’ was swiftly launched in order to aid two local fishing boats, the ‘Silver Eagle’ and the ‘Vine’ who were experiencing difficulties. With sea states and weather conditions worsening, the fishing boats were unable to return to the harbour resulting in all ten fishermen being safely rescued and returned to land by the lifeboat crew of the ‘Alexander Black’.

            The ‘Alexander Black’ was launched again on 8th December 1899 in heavy seas and gales to assist the Danish schooner ‘Alba’ which had issued a distress signal. The lifeboat was able to help the ‘Alba’ manoeuvre away from some dangerous rocks that she was in danger of being hurled against thus allowing her to return to Aberdeen harbour unharmed.

Early on the 16th December 1911, the ‘Alexander Black’ was launched during what could only be described as a severe storm which had been battering the coastline for days. She rushed to the aid of the Schooner ‘Hiskilina’ of Westhaven which was struggling to cope with the effects of the storm. Upon approach, the lifeboat crew watched in disbelief as the ‘Hiskilina’ sank right before their eyes. They spotted the schooners own lifeboat which had been launched by the Hiskilinas crew in a desperate attempt to escape and rescued the four exhausted shipwrecked men. The German Government later sent a letter of thanks to the RNLI and Stonehaven Lifeboat for bravely saving the crew of the ‘Hiskilina’ that day.

Birth of the Inshore Lifeboat: High-Speed Inflatable Rescue Boats

In the May of 1963, the RNLI introduced the first of its high-speed, inflatable, inshore rescue boats (IRBs), more commonly known today as Inshore Lifeboats (ILBs). They proved to be extremely successful and as a result more and more were introduced around the coast to aid in search and rescue operations.

Stonehaven was excited to receive an IRB (No.121) in the April of 1967. However, over the coming years Stonehaven Lifeboat Station experienced a decline in the number of service calls being made and sadly closed on October 31st, 1984. At the time of closure, the station had answered a total of 75 calls since 1967 and saved a total of 38 lives at sea. The boathouse which was built in 1889 was used as a storage unit until 2015 when the lifeboat returned to Stonehaven where it continues to operate today!