History of “The Chieftain”

Built in 1948 at Groves and Gutteridge boatyard in Cowes , Isle of Wight

“The Chieftain” is one of 31 twin engine 35`6” Liverpool class Lifeboats built for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. These were a development of earlier single engine boats of this type. Whilst most of these boats were launched from carriages, Chieftain was one of the few that launched down a slipway from her boathouse which, rather unusually, was built into the embankment of the railway line running in to her home town of Barmouth in Wales

Taking up Service in 1949 she went on to have a very successful career spanning 33 years and was one of the last of this type in service anywhere in the country when she retired in 1982.

Her first call came shortly after her naming ceremony when she was launched in high winds and rough seas to a report of an aircraft crashed 6 miles offshore from Barmouth. She located the wreckage and brought the pilot safely ashore but unfortunately the navigator had already perished.

Chieftain went on to have a highly successful career saving a total of 132 lives as well as assisting many more people and vessels to safety. During her service she and her crew adapted to the change in the types of calls she was responding to as leisure craft became more and more popular in the sixties and seventies.

During her time at Barmouth, Chieftain, was an integral part of the town and greatly loved by her crew and their families. On one occasion the wedding of one of her crew “John Stockford” was interrupted by a call for the Lifeboat and he went sea wearing his wedding suit under his oilskins. Having completed the rescue of a fishing vessel in trouble off the harbour, John and the rest of the crew returned to the reception party.

Some families fondly recall the distinctive drone of Chieftains engines and tell of how they could hear her safely returning to port long before she could be seen.

In 1982 she was replaced by the Rother Class Lifeboat “The Princess of Wales”

and was present during the new boats naming ceremony conducted in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales (Lady Di).

Many boats of her type which were sold at the end of their service were converted into commercial fishing vessels which resulted in their appearance changing significantly. Chieftain however was initially intended to become a museum exhibit which saved her from this fate.

When the museum plan eventually fell through Chieftain took up a new life offering trips around the bay in her hometown of Barmouth before being sold and moved to Wells-next the sea to carry on the same type of work.

By 2004, Chieftain was again up for sale but starting to show her age and had not had any major works carried out since she had retired from the RNLI.

Fortunately, her new owner, Tony Gatt, moved her to Monmouthshire and undertook a major restoration of her lasting nearly six years. During this time he replaced the decks, both her engines, updated her electrics and numerous other works whilst taking great care to preserve her outward appearance as she would have looked in service.

After over fifty years constant use, Chieftain again looked as good as new.

Tony went on to cruise extensively with Chieftain and supported many RNLI ceremonies around the coast as well as being selected to participate in the Queens Jubilee Pageant on the Thames in 2012. She also featured in the ITV series “All at Sea” with Ade Edmondson.

By 2019, Tony was looking for a new challenge to take on and so Chieftain was offered for sale.

Whitstable locals Richard and Sue Judge had been looking for a boat to run trips from Whitstable harbour and with Richard having been crew on the local Lifeboat for nearly forty years before retiring, “The Chieftain” was just the job.

In 2020 Whitstable Vintage Lifeboat Trips started operating from Whitstable harbour offering guests the chance to get afloat on this iconic and beautiful vessel and hear about her proud history whilst enjoying a leisurely cruise on our local waters.