By Karen Cox
Volunteer crew, past crew and families as well as Ramsgate residents will gather on Saturday morning (February 10) to say goodbye to the town’s RNLI vessel Trent class Esme Anderson as she is handed over to begin her service at Eastbourne.
The Esme Anderson 14-02 arrived in Ramsgate in the Autumn of 1994 from Poole to take over from the previous lifeboat, Tyne class Kenneth Thelwall II. The Trent class was the first all-weather lifeboat capable of 25 knots and with a range of 250 nautical miles.
Her dedication service was held in Ramsgate on 25 October 1994 attended by the then President of the RNLI HRH the Duke of Kent who was welcomed by the Station Hon.Sec Captain Geoffrey Tully.
Christopher Oldham, the donor of the money and son of Mrs Esme Anderson, was also in attendance and after a few words handed the boat over to the station and Ramsgate.
The Anderson family had generously funded two boats bearing the Anderson name as Esme’s husband Keith Anderson had a boat named in his honour five years earlier, an Arun class lifeboat which was at Newhaven Station for six years followed by a spell in the relief fleet and finishing in Hartlepool in 2003.
Ramsgate volunteer crew will be sorry to see her go, as over the nearly 30 years they have had her they have many fond memories, not just of rescues but the fun times as well.
Volunteer crew Jason Crome shared his memory of his very first time of stepping onboard Esme in those early days: “Times were different then and when the lifeboat needed to launch, if there was no crew available then they would take the most experienced person available.
“Then Coxswain Ron Cannon asked me to jump on board to launch to a yacht in distress, what an amazing rush! That was when I was in my early 20s and I went on to become a member of the crew and still am to this day.”
Clive Nichols, the Deputy Mechanic, remembers crossing the Channel on Esme Anderson with the Dunkirk Little Ships Association, not once but three times.
Every five years the DLSA commemorates Operation Dynamo returning to Dunkirk in commemoration of those who fought for us, those that died and didn’t return. As well as being escorted across by the Royal Navy, the elderly but immaculate boats are escorted by the RNLI. In Ramsgate’s case this is for two reasons.
The first is in memory of Ramsgate Class Prudential ON697 built in 1925, whose Coxswain Howard Knight and crew spent 40 hours at sea of which 30 hours were under fire rescuing 2,800 men. The second is to provide assistance if any boat was to break down.
Clive said: “I have wonderful memories of the sight of the Little Ships crossing, the camaraderie of everyone being together in Dunkirk, listening to the stories from the survivors.”
Volunteer crew Lance Oram talked about picking Esme up from Diverse Marine in the Isle of Wight after she had some repairs done in July 2022. He said: “ It was a long day, but heading out from the Marina with the sun rising and the sea calm was just a magical memory.”
In the early days of the boat, the families would head out of Ramsgate Harbour round to Broadstairs Water Gala. Held on a Wednesday in August it is always a special day with the beach full of sunbathers and water sports in the bay and the arrival of the lifeboats is a special moment.
Asking Phil Mace the Mechanic about Esme Anderson he summed her up from a mechanical point of view: “As her mechanic for the past 25 years she has proved herself to be reliable, she just gets you home. Simple, basic engineering that has never let us down.”
Coxswain Ian Cannon (pictured above) and his brother Paul, who is Deputy Coxswain, have very long memories of Esme Anderson as their father Ron was the Coxswain when Esme arrived on station. Ian recalls going with his father to Poole to watch her being built before she arrived.
Both brothers, when asked separately of their fondest memories, gave the same memory of Esme Anderson which involved the rescue of the Tug Jolly.
Ron Cannon retired from the RNLI on 27 January 2001 and during the handover period from Ron to Ian, Esme Anderson was called out to a converted tug called Jolly, which had complete engine failure with one person onboard around the back of the Goodwin Sands.
Ian recalled: “This was my first time in control with my father overseeing it. It was an awful night and we were surfing down waves by the South Foreland due to strong wind and tide. The best option was to take the Tug into Dover Harbour.
“When nearing the Harbour, Port Control asked the crew to stand by due to ferry movements. Being so close to the Port the crew decided to take a turn back out to sea awaiting permission to enter.
“As the Jolly turned broadside in the extreme conditions the aft quarter of Esme Anderson was underwater due to the swell and as I looked down from the fly bridge I could see my brother Paul and Alan Bray wading through the thigh high water.
“The Jolly also rolled heavily and the massive mast came crashing down onto the deck of the Tug in a shower of sparks. Dover RNLI lifeboat was launched to assist and they assisted us in getting the Tug moored up safely.”
For both brothers this was a special memory as it was the last time they went out on a rescue with their father Ron before he retired.
On Saturday 10 February at 11am, the crew from Eastbourne will be at the station to take ownership of Esme Anderson and we wish her well in her future adventures.