One of the finest all-weather boats ever built for rescue work is now going to serve as a fence at the top of the cliff, rather than an ambulance at the bottom.
Lifeboat 52-18 is the only one of her kind in New Zealand after working as a rescue boat in the UK since she was built in 1980 and being brought to the country in 2003 following a complete refit. She currently resides at Whangārei’s Town Basin while awaiting the green light to carry out the practical side of commercial skipper training locally.
The 15m Arun class lifeboat was owned by local Brian Angliss, whose 2013 offer to Coastguard Northern Region for the boat’s use on the Tutukaka Coast was turned down. She has subsequently sat on the hard for sale until Skipper Training NZ owner Milo Coldren snapped her up.
Coldren and his wife arrived in the Bay of Islands by boat from Canada 20 years ago, before his wife was offered a job in Nelson. He has subsequently been teaching various skipper courses, as well as running a boat charter business, before designing a more hands-on programme than what was being offered, and starting his own business two years ago.
“We didn’t plan on staying in New Zealand but I felt instantly at home and we’ve never left,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the Commonwealth or what but it’s always been in the back of my mind to reconnect with Northland.
“I saw the potential for a practical skipper training course, as there is nothing like it in the North Island. I had three students from Northland on the last course in Nelson, who got stuck there during lockdown, so could see there was a demand.”
The opportunity arose when he spotted the bright orange vessel for sale online.
“It looked like it was an ideal set-up for training. It was set up perfectly for training skippers and is very robust and safe with a lot of commercial gear onboard. When I saw this boat and saw the training potential for it, it really tugged at heartstrings.”
Being in lockdown, he purchased the boat unseen, but was impressed when he finally clapped eyes on his new vessel in real life.
“She was built to incredibly high specifications and is in incredibly good shape. She was previously used as a rescue boat in the Isle of Scilly and can hold 160 survivors in calm seas.”
Despite being confined to land for the last decade, the vessel’s return to the water was successful, albeit short-lived with the announcement of another snap lockdown. She was swiftly hauled back out on the hard and Coldren returned home to Nelson.
After undergoing local refit work, she is back on the water, unmissable at the Town Basin. However, whether she stays in Northland will depend on an application for government funding being successful.
Coldren’s aim is to have her based here and run three five-week courses a year aimed at the likes of commercial fishermen, tugboat operators, passenger ferry services, tourism and aquaculture. While Coldren would commute from Nelson, he would also employ local staff.
“I’d love to live up here but I have teenagers who are well-established in Nelson,” he explained. “It’s going to depend on government funding, which I was told I would find out about early this week,” he said, adding that he has been checking his phone constantly.
If the funding application is unsuccessful, he said he would base the boat in Nelson and reapply the following year.
Local support, however, had been phenomenal, he said, along with the standard of workmanship by local marine businesses.
Lifeboat 52-18 residing at Tutukaka Marina back in 2003. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Back in 2013, the Northern Advocate reported that Brian Angliss’ offer of Lifeboat 52-18 to the Coastguard Northern Region was turned down. He had also offered to pay the boat’s insurance, marina, servicing, maintenance, survey costs, and fuel and general running costs.
It was deemed unsuitable for long-term use by Coastguard, who said it didn’t meet criteria. However, it did carry out one rescue on our waters – in 2009 it went to the aid of a Tutukaka Coastguard crew injured when their rescue boat ran onto the rocks off Pataua South.
The Arun, with Angliss at the helm, shepherded to safety a couple of yachties the Coastguard crew had gone out to save, then towed the rescue boat back to Tutukaka. The Arun was used for Coastguard training while the rescue boat was being repaired.
After that, it is believed to have sat on the hard in the Norsand boatyard while Angliss waited for an offer of up to $400,000.
Designed by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the lifeboat holds a crew of six, is 15.9m long, 5.2m wide and powered by twin 500hp Caterpillar diesel motors which can move it at up to 18 knots (34.3km/h) through all seas. It has radios, radar, chart plotters, depth sounders and other gear standard for Arun lifeboats in RNLI service. The vessel is self-righting if it capsizes.