Restoration of historic Gorleston lifeboat steaming ahead - but more helpers needed to get her afloat
13:54 26 September 2014
An ambitious project to restore a historic lifeboat is moving ahead at full steam as volunteers work towards a deadline to get her back in the water.
History of a proud lifesaver
The Louise Stephens has travelled hundreds of miles and been stationed at various ports since she came into service in Gorleston in 1939.
During her time in Norfolk she saved hundreds of lives and was also one of 18 other lifeboats in a mission to aid the second world war evacuation of the British forces at Dunkirk.
It is believed she was sold out of service in 1974 to become a fishing boat and renamed the Tyne Star.
In 1984, she was re-engined and fitted with a large trawler wheelhouse and two years later found herself in South Devon and was used as a family pleasure boat.
She moved to Islay in western Scotland in the late 1980s, where she was used as a fishing boat.
Her journey back down south began in April last year when she was launched back into the water and left Islay for mainland Scotland.
Travelling under her own power she made the Scottish mainland in 10 hours and remained in the water for two days, before she was lifted onto road transport and brought down to Lowestoft.
The Louise Stephens saved 177 lives during her service as Gorleston’s lifeboat, and was also among the flotilla of Dunkirk Little Ships that helped evacuate second world war soldiers.
After more than 40 years away from East Anglian waters the heroic vessel was returned to her home port in April 2013 and since then a band of dedicated volunteers have been hard at work, restoring her to her former glory.
Leading the project is qualified naval architect Peter Johnson, who is among the surviving crew members that served on her as a lifeboat.
He said the team had made a lot of progress on getting her back into ship shape fashion and they hope to have her back in the water by next spring.
“We’re now beginning to paint up and repair and get into the refurbishment of the boat itself,” he added. “We’re hoping to get the boat into a seaworthy condition by next April/May and then take her over to Dunkirk for the 2015 re-enactment because they happen every five years.
“We’re happy with progress but we will try and step up the work to get her seaworthy because she really does need to go afloat.”
The Louise Stephens is currently in dry dock at Brooke Business Park in Lowestoft where volunteers have stripped out her engines, ready to be overhauled this week, and made a start on restoring her decks, engine room and other compartments.
And as well as the satisfaction of seeing history come back to life, the work has also revealed some surprises.
Mr Johnson said: “One of the most remarkable discoveries we’ve made is that the cockpit was drained by some brass scuppers (openings), which were hidden behind a steel plate and it’s like finding a pot of gold.
“It’s an original feature of the boat and I wouldn’t say they’re in pristine condition, but they’re polishing up beautifully.”
But while work on restoring the historic vessel is moving ahead, Mr Johnson said he was keen to recruit more helpers to keep the project afloat.
“We have got a good team and those that come and work are very enthusiastic but we need all kinds of back office jobs to do things like fundraising and accounts,” he added.
“We would welcome anyone keen to help out.”
■ If you are interested in joining the team call Mr Johnson on 07800960347 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
■ The AGM for the Louise Stephens Preservation Trust is being held on Friday, October 3 at Yarmouth and Gorleston Sailing Club, next to the Pier Hotel in Gorleston, from 7pm.