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Marine / Converted lifeboat arrives in Shetland – with a little help from the RNLI

Photo: RNLI Lerwick

AN ARCTIC traveller from England has thanked the “superstar” Lerwick RNLI crew after they towed in his own converted lifeboat into the town after suffering problems in the seas off Shetland.

There was a touch of irony in Alex Hibbert’s fully enclosed, former oil rig lifeboat Alan having to be towed into the town by Lerwick’s own’s orange vessel on Wednesday afternoon.

The Arctic expedition leader bought the eight metre Alan from a dealer in Scotland in 2019 and set out to convert the vessel before sailing from England to the Arctic.

After some more repairs and improvements to Alan – which is currently based in Bressay – Hibbert will wait on the “magic weather window” to make the trip to Norway, to near Måløy.

Explaining what happened en route to Lerwick, Hibbert told Shetland News he had noticed the coolant temperature rising around an hour north of Fair Isle, and then after that he found coolant in the bilge at the bottom of the boat.

After temperatures dropped and rose again, he made the call to shut down the engine just north of Sumburgh Head.

Suspecting a blockage to the cooling circuit, Hibbert – who was accompanied by another person on board – wondered if he could slowly motor to a bay, “but the engine wouldn’t restart for more than a few minutes”.

Photo: Alex Hibbert

“At that point, drifting, I called a ‘pan pan’ to the coastguard. Our sea anchor failed to keep us facing the waves, and we ended up with a bad roll motion,” he continued.

“We got the engine running briefly once or twice, and so we slowly moved towards where we knew the RNLI would approach from. They had a mayday call just at the same time as our call, but still got to us quickly, and towed us back like absolute superstars.

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“A couple of the crew actually follow my YouTube, so it was good to chat with them after.”

RNLI Lerwick coxswain Stephen Manson said it was an “unusual task” to tow in a former lifeboat.

Hibbert had taken Alan up the east coast of the UK and stopped off in Fair Isle recently before heading up towards Lerwick.

He had undertaken around two years of restoration and improvements at a boatyard in Essex, in the Thames Esturary.

Last summer Alan motored up to Edinburgh via areas like Wells, Grimsby and Hartlepool.

Hibbert’s original plans with Alan, however, were interrupted by the Covid pandemic.

“The original plan pre-Covid was for a team of mine to work on the boat for a wider Arctic survey and ski winter project called the Dark Ice Project,” he explained.

“We were funded by adidas and a consortium of outdoor clothing tech brands, and were filming a documentary, but Covid scuppered that.

“So, I bought the boat of my own company and took on the project solo. I’m aiming to keep the broad aim of using Alan as an expedition boat, able to move around pack ice safely and without a keel that can be crushed.”

Explaining what spurred him on to undertake the Alan project, Hibbert said he had a “wider desire for my Arctic career and associated projects to remain original, varied and interesting”.

“I don’t want to just complete journeys in the same style as those in the roughly similar line of work,” he said.

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