The Duke of Kent lifeboat returned home to Eastbourne today (Wednesday) after more than 20 years away.
The old RNLI vessel has been reclaimed thanks to Allchorn Pleasure Boats, who managed to raise enough money to buy it and bring it back all the way from Scotland.
The boat, which is 38ft long and weighs around 15 tons, took 48 hours to be transported to Allchorn’s site at Fisherman’s Green.
It was spotted on Gumtree completely by chance and the volunteers at Allchorn made it their mission to bring it home and restore it to its former glory.
Lloyd Stebbings, of Allchorn, said, “Eastbourne has a lot of history and it needs looking after.”
The boat started service in 1979 as the local RNLI’s eighth lifeboat and was here for about 20 years.
Among those welcoming the Duke of Kent was Dave Corke, 70, who was a crew member on the boat for 31 years. He went out on 1,000 missions and was involved in saving 223 lives.
And Ron Wheeler, whose father was the skipper on The Duke of Kent, said it was once used to save former MP Ian Gow, whose fishing boat had lost power at sea. It served until 1993 when it was sold on.
But The Duke is not the only boat Allchorn wants to return to ship shape. Among the projects to restore are Southern Queen, built in Westham, and William Allchorn – ‘the last two pleasure boats’.
Mr Stebbings said of Southern Queen, “It was such a sad sight and I thought ‘something’s got to be done about it’. I started making a nuisance of myself with local organisations and the council.
“Not many people were taking me seriously but I kept plugging away at it. Then we started getting a few donations in.
“2011 was the first time in 230 years Eastbourne hadn’t had one pleasure boat. They used to operate from the Wish Tower to the Redoubt, there was boats along the whole length of the seafront.
“We’ve committed ourselves to save them.”
It could cost up to £2 million to fully restore each boat. Mr Stebbings said people have asked him why not just build a new one.
He said, “It’s a beautiful boat and it can’t be left to fall to bits. What do we have left without the pleasure boats?
“The town misses out on such a lot because this is all gone. It’s a shame, Eastbourne could make so much of its seafront.
“What would be ideal would be to have a boat going from the pier to Hastings. That would draw people to Eastbourne.”
As well as restoring the old boats, the plan is to set up an educational facility at the warehouse to teach people about the town’s history.
To find out more and donate to the restoration, visit www.allchornpleasureboattrust.org.uk