CHARLES COOPER HENDERSON
Type: R.N.L.I. Lifeboat
Length: 41 ft
Beam: 12 ft 3 ins
Draft: 3 ft 8 ins
Displacement: 15.66 tons
Engine: Originally 2 x Weyburn Petrol Engines
Construction: Mahogany on oak
Builder: Groves & Gutteridge
Nineteen RNLI lifeboats from as far North as Great Yarmouth and East from Poole, were at Dunkirk while the RNLI still maintained its service along the English coast. Built and maintained entirely by voluntary contributions, many of the lifeboats were manned by dedicated volunteers, who often considered themselves to be more experienced seamen than the RNVR crews who took their place. The lifeboat men had a very personal attachment to their boats and did not take kindly to the idea of beaching them at La Panne. Some with Naval crews, some manned by civilian crews, all the lifeboats acquitted themselves well: ferrying troops, towing disabled ships and rescuing men from the wreck-strewn sea in the face of shore-based shelling and aerial attacks.
The Dungeness-based Charles Cooper Henderson, Britain's longest-serving lifeboat, was first launched on 9th September 1933 and, with her twin 30 hp Weyburn petrol engines, was the first of the 'beach motor lifeboats' which took over from the pulling and sailing ones. During her forty-three years on active service, she took part in 171 rescues and saved sixty-three lives. No lifeboat-style log was kept recording her service at Dunkirk. But we know that, on 1st June, found damaged and drifting off Margate with her four naval ratings aboard, she was herself rescued and towed back to the English coast by Margate lifeboat.
After the necessary repairs, she resumed her duty at Dungeness. Her coxswain, George Tart, won the RNLI bronze medal for gallantry in the rescue of nine men from the collier Teeswood on 29th July 1956 in a rare force 12 storm. Between noon and midnight that day, the Charles Cooper Henderson was launched no less than three times. On each occasion, as her coxswain said afterwards, "it took her a long time to get back, pounding against wind and sea".
Around about 1963/5 the old petrol engines were replaced by the R.N.L.I. and two Parsons Porbeagle diesels installed, hence the intricate fuel pipework.
There is never a shortage of applicants when lifeboats go out of service and come up for sale. This is only partly due to the strength and stability of their hulls and their meticulous maintenance. Their life-saving history, the affection which stems from the fact that they were donated and manned by volunteers and generous donors, all contribute to their popularity.
When ‘Charles Cooper Henderson’ came out of service in 1976, the R.N.L.I. insisted on the name being changed, and she was re-named ‘Elizabeth Spencer‘. To start with she was used by the Coastguard at Aldeborough for a while and then sold to a fisherman out of Southwold. Her radio call sign was MDLL. However, ‘Elizabeth Spencer’ did not suit the fisherman’s needs, and this is when Peter Larkin purchased her.
In 1977 Eileen and Peter Larkin re-built the Charles Cooper Henderson into a motor yacht with a sensitive and aesthetically pleasing conversion which included a 20ft. wheel-house and deck saloon with fore and aft cabins - enough space for eight people.
When Peter bought ‘Elizabeth Spencer‘ he had already seen the conversion that Tom Lawrence had carried out on ‘ Dowager‘, liked it and copied it, although he made the saloon larger. Peter then changed her name to ‘Caresana‘ after a town in Italy where his father had served in the war.
Peter sold ‘ Caresana ‘ in 1984, after which she was moved to Guernsey and then in 1990 to France where she became a floating classroom for a language school.
In 1996, whilst still in France, she was refurbished by a boat-builder on the River Rance where she was re-rigged as a gaff ketch (as she had been originally). She retained her Porbeagle Diesels. She returned to Guernsey in 1996 and was repainted before taking part in the traditional music and boat festival in Paimpol, Brittany that same year.
In early 2011, Caresana was acquired by the Dunkirk Little Ship Restoration Trust after spending five years on a beach mooring at Leigh on Sea. She was moved to Smallgains Marina on Canvey Island and hauled out and blocked off ashore. Here a small team of volunteers carried out some work on the hull to make her seaworthy and in late October 2011 she was towed up to Shepperton. At Shepperton, restoration was led by Dennis Cox with the help of Eric and Sandy Pollard and Bob Jones. (Sadly, Dennis passed away in early 2017)
Subsequently her wheelhouse / Saloon was completely rebuilt, and a lot of hours were spent carrying out further internal work. Even her Porbeagles were got running again , not bad for over fifty years of age.
‘Caresana‘ has been under new ownership since 2017, she has been renamed back to ‘Charles Cooper Henderson’. Currently, she is out of the water awaiting structural repairs.