Type: R.N.L.I. Lifeboat
Displacement: 23 tons
Engine: 2 x Ferry Diesels
Builder: J S White, Cowes IoW
Few of us, living in peace time, when mariners meticulously obey the 'Rules for Avoiding Collisions at Sea', can visualise the chaos on 1st June 1940 around the harbour of Dunkirk, where the Michael Stephens came and left the harbour, jostling with Naval and civilian craft coaxing soldiers to climb down to their decks from the shattered pier high above them.
Ships of all sizes, often manned by exhausted, unfamiliar crews were coming and going amid shellfire and dive-bombing through waters strewn with bodies and wreckage. In the darkness the Michael Stephens was twice rammed by motor torpedo boats as she ferried soldiers out to the big ships in the deep water, initially from the harbour, and when that became impossible, from the beaches.
No-one kept records of how many soldiers each Little Ship plucked from the beaches. When the Michael Stephens returned to Dover she had fifty-two soldiers aboard.
This former Lowestoft lifeboat was built by J Samuel White at Cowes. She and her sister ship, the Gorleston lifeboat Louise Stephens, was bought with the legacy of the family after whom they were named. Michael Stephens served at Lowestoft for 24 years, spent five more at Exmouth and then seven in the reserve fleet before she was sold out of service in 1975. In her time, she was launched 182 times and saved 92 lives - apart from her Dunkirk involvement.
Charles and Elizabeth Cave found her in 1976 at Crosshaven, County Cork, Eire. She is retained as original above deck, with the original Ferry Diesels and controls. Below she is converted for cruising, and has visited ports in Holland, Normandy, Brittany, Ireland, the West, South and East Coasts of England and the Isles of Scilly.
In 1995, after thirty-two years absence, she revisited Lowestoft where she was greeted with great ceremony.
Old habits die hard. Even in retirement, where chance has placed her in the right spot, she has effected a number of rescues.