After a 'gold medal' stint as Guernsey's Lifeboat, the Sir William Arnold was retired nearly 25 years ago. But that was not the end of the story of the vessel described as a 'Guernsey Hero' by the RNLI.
The Aran class lifeboat is now in London, where she is the city's only 'floating lifeboat experience' and is educating others about the courageous and life-saving work of the RNLI.
Among the heroic calls for help to which her crew responded was the Bonita rescue. It was 40 years ago yesterday when the Sir William Arnold took her crew into a tremendous storm in the English Channel to rescue the listing cargo ship Bonita.
Pictured: H E Beavis painted this picture of the Bonita rescue. Image provided by the RNLI.
That mission, on 13 December 1981, remains one of the most treacherous missions any St. Peter Port Lifeboat crew has answered.
There were 36 people on board the Bonita and 34 of them survived. The survivors included wives and children of senior members of the crew.
The rescue has been remembered by the RNLI in a new interview with the Coxswain of the Sir William Arnold at the time. Michael Scales said he still remembers the bravery of those on board the Bonita who, in dusk and snow, jumped from the ship into water with waves 15 metres high so they could be pulled on to the lifeboat as their own vessel listed precariously before sinking hours later.
Pictured: An injured Bonita crewman is taken off the Sir William Arnold in an image captured by the Herald Express and provided by the RNLI.
The Sir William Arnold entered service in St. Peter Port in 1973. She was christened on 23rd May 1974 by HRH the Duchess of Kent. She was named after the man who was Guernsey's Bailiff between 1959 and 1973. He was previously a People's Deputy for 10 years and HM Procureur for 13 years.
Following the vessel's retirement in 1997, the 52ft Sir William Arnold was in private ownership for a while before Colin Trowles took possession and worked to restore it to teach others about the RNLI and its courageous volunteers.
The website dedicated to the Sir William Arnold describes the challenge facing those who worked on the restoration:
"A lot of hard work and tender loving care would be required to get her back to as near as possible how she once looked.
"When she was lifted out of the water in October 2019, she was but a shadow of her former self. Thankfully, her wheelhouse was still orange. Barnacles had taken hold of her keel, hull, prop shafts and propellers, heavily reducing her speed and capability for the passage to Amble."
Pictured: The Lifeboat 52-02 website details the work to restore and display the Sir William Arnold. It also features this picture of the 1981 St. Peter Port Lifeboat crew and other images depicting the vessel's work in Bailiwick waters.
Today, the Sir William Arnold is on display at St Katharine Docks in Tower Hamlets in London. The Royal Yachting Association's training centre partners, Blue Lamp Afloat and Seavoice Training, also have facilities there. The facilities and vessels at the docks, including the Sir William Arnold, host a variety of training courses.
The private limited company set up to preserve and promote the work of the Sir William Arnold is called 'Lifeboat 52-02'. It is run by volunteers who are all self-confessed lifeboat enthusiasts. They seek to donate money to the RNLI raised through activities and open days.
The Lifeboat 52-02 website can be reached HERE.
The interview about the Bonita rescue with former St. Peter Port Lifeboat Coxswain Michael Scales can be viewed HERE.
The RNLI documentary about the Bonita rescue can be viewed HERE.
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