Gallery: Historic Gorleston lifeboat welcomed home after 40 year hiatus

Former Gorleston lifeboat the Louise Stephens arrives at its new home in Lowestoft after spendIng mo

Former Gorleston lifeboat the Louise Stephens arrives at its new home in Lowestoft after spendIng more than 30 years away. Peter Johnson with the the boat. - Credit: Nick Butcher

In a seafaring career that has spanned more than 70 years she has saved hundreds as a lifeboat, brought joy to dozens more as a pleasure cruiser and battled bitter seas as a fishing trawler.

But now after seven decades of service historic Gorleston lifeboat the Louise Stephens is taking a well-earned break and preparing for some much-deserved TLC, as a project to restore her gets under way.

The heroic vessel, which also served as one of the Dunkirk Little Ships, was welcomed back to her home moorings this weekend after a 40-year hiatus, where she will be stripped back and returned to her former glory.

Her restorative journey has been spearheaded by boatbuilder Peter Johnson, who launched a campaign to bring her back to East Anglian waters at the end of last year after previous attempts failed. The maritime enthusiast from Corton was on hand to welcome her home on Saturday morning, after she travelled 522 miles by land and sea from the isle of Islay in western Scotland to a boatyard in Lowestoft.

Mr Johnson, who is among the surviving crew members that served on her as a lifeboat, said: “It’s a major step forward for the boat. She’s basically home.

“There were no problems at all on the journey, in fact the biggest fight was with a fir tree on the driveway into the shipyard, so its covered in bits of fir tree but she’s here and in good shape.

“Obviously it would have been nice to have her in Great Yarmouth but she’s in the best place possible for working on.” Volunteers and campaigners will now begin on returning the Louise Stephens back to her lifeboat heyday.

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Since being taken out of active service from Gorleston in 1967 the vessel has been used as a pleasure boat in South Devon, a trawler and fishing boat on Islay.

Her hull and decks have been stripped and repainted, after hurricane force winds hit the Hebridean island, and work will now concentrate on her fixtures and furnishings below deck, as well as restoring her original features.

Mr Johnson said: “The first major thing to do is a huge clean-up, she has got so full of junk accumulated over 20 years. “Then we have got a lot of research to do because she originally had a funnel and ventilators of special design.

“The worst thing is the wheelhouse they stuck on her. We have got to take that away and finish cleaning the cockpit area and re-instating the original steering.” Her seaworthiness has already been put to the test, after she made the 10-hour crossing from Portnahaven in Islay to Ardrossan on the Scottish mainland, but Mr Johnson said work would be done to make her fully ship shape.

It is hoped she will be back to her original best to take part in Yarmouth’s Maritime Festival in September and she can then be used for educational, heritage and training trips.

Mr Johnson added: “It’s really good that she’s back where she belongs, I’m very pleased indeed.”

? A public meeting is being held on Saturday to galvanise further support for the restoration project. Anyone interested in the campaign is encouraged to attend Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Sailing Club, next to the Pier Hotel in Gorleston, from 10.30am.

For more details call 01502 730550 or email