Penlee Lifeboat – 40 Years On

Dec 19, 2021

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This morning we went to pay our respects at the old Penlee Lifeboat Station between Newlyn and Mousehole. A brisk south-easterly breeze gave the gulls an airstream to dive & soar above the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) flag flying at half-mast while we took in the undisturbed scene of the boathouse and slipway from where the Solomon Brown had launched 40 years ago. On that day the weather was very different with hurricane-force winds of 90knots and the treacherous Atlantic fetch that generated 18m waves – and yet they still launched a 14m wooden Watson class lifeboat into that phenomenal sea-state to go to the aid of the crew of the stricken M/V Union Star coaster.

The old lifeboat station at Penlee Point – from where the Solomon Browne launched 40 years ago

Much has been written about the events of that evening four decades ago – the tales of true courage of a crew that didn’t hesitate to put themselves in harm’s way to try and help save the lives of mariners in peril – an underlying ethos of the organisation that they represented – the RNLI. The tragedy of the loss of that crew, along with the helpless mariners they had battled to save, and the deep & profound impact those events brought to their families and the tightly-knit Cornish community of Mousehole.

A few months ago we were fortunate enough to attend a talk at the Royal Fowey Yacht Club by Martin Brockman, the son of Nigel (who was the assistant mechanic on the Solomon Brown when she launched). Martin is an authority on the proud history of service by Cornish lifeboats and I would encourage you to attend one of his presentations if the chance arises. We appreciate his time afterwards to talk to us about his personal feelings and recollections of that night and the years that followed.

RNLI Flag at half-mast in respect of those lost

As a 14-year-old, I remember sitting in silence with my parents in our kitchen at home in Mullion, listening to the first news reports of the disaster and beginning to appreciate the significance of the events as they unfolded. At first light the following day I rushed to the cliff-tops above Mullion Cove to look west across Mount’s Bay in the hope of seeing a small orange boat making its way safely home. Instead, I was confronted by a boiling mass of open water that simultaneously tore at both the far horizon and the cliffs below me with a ferocity that I have rarely seen since. To imagine the experience that all those brave people encountered in such extreme conditions still leaves me feeling incredibly humbled and in awe of their actions.

It is worth remembering the selfless actions of other RNLI crews on the 19th of December 1981 – with launches of the lifeboats from The Lizard, Sennen Cove and St Mary’s stations – all without hesitation into the same storm.

As a professional mariner, I am thankful that we have the RNLI and crews who would take on the challenge again if it arose – hopefully without such a tragic outcome.

So in remembrance today, we think of those lost and those they left behind…

From the crew of the RNLI Solomon Browne –

  • Coxswain William Trevelyan Richards
  • Second Coxswain and Mechanic James Madron
  • Assistant Mechanic Nigel Brockman
  • Emergency Mechanic John Blewett
  • Crew Member Charles Greenhaugh
  • Crew Member Kevin Smith
  • Crew Member Barrie Torrie
  • Crew Member Gary Wallis

From the crew of the M/V Union Star –

  • Captain Henry Moreton
  • Mate James Whittaker
  • Engineer George Sedgwick
  • Crewman Anghostino Verressimo
  • Crewman Manuel Lopez
  • Passenger Moreton, Dawn (Captain’s Wife), Sharon and Deanne, (Captain’s Stepdaughters)

Not forgetting the crew of the coaster M/V Mark that foundered in Mount’s Bay that same night with the loss of six.



The current Penlee Lifeboat The Ivan Ellen heading back to base in Newlyn this morning

Post by Simon

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