Facelift under way for lifeboat

The Helen Smitton in St Abs Harbour.
The Helen Smitton in St Abs Harbour.

While St Abbs celebrates the arrival of its new lifeboat, the harbour’s original lifeboat, the Helen Smitton, is currently being reconstructed.

The need for a lifeboat at St Abbs became clear in 1907, when the Alfred Erlandsen and her crew were lost on rocks nearby.

The community petitioned the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and in April 1911 the Helen Smitton arrived in St Abbs.

Last year, the RNLI decided St Abbs no longer needed a lifeboat, a decision not accepted by the community, who now have their own independent lifeboat, and as preparations are made for the official launch of the Thomas Tunnock, the Helen Smitton is being made seaworthy again.

Boatbuilder Malcom Brown is working on the old lifeboat in a Welsh boatyard, using the same materials and methods employed in 1910 when she was built by Thames Ironworks in London.

The Helen Smitton was one of the first lifeboats built with an engine, and when she is re-launched in 2018, she will be the oldest motor lifeboat in the world in sea-going condition.

Malcom purchased the vessel and hopes a trust can be set up to return her to Scotland and maintain her in seagoing condition.

Experts say the Helen Smitton was built for a service life of 25 years and spent most her time “in a cosy tin shed at the top of the St Abbs slipway where she was pampered by her crew of herring fishermen”.