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‘A star and a rock’: Coxswain at Longhope RNLI to retire after 20 years

Kevin Kirkpatrick the coxswain at the RNLI in Stornoway has announced his retirement. Picture supplied by RNLI.
Kevin Kirkpatrick the coxswain at the RNLI in Stornoway has announced his retirement. Picture supplied by RNLI.

Volunteers at RNLI Longhope in Orkney will say a fond farewell this week to their lifeboat coxswain who retires this Thursday.

The team wished coxswain Kevin Kirkpatrick a “very happy retirement” after 20 years at the helm of the Tamar Class lifeboat, Helen Comrie.

But far from taking it easy, the lifeboat stalwart isn’t hanging up his yellow boots – and is instead taking on a new role as a volunteer crew member.

Mr Kirkpatrick became the coxswain in 2002, following in the footsteps of other family members who were involved in Longhope’s lifeboat station.

He shares a direct connection with the Longhope lifeboat tragedy in 1969, losing his father, grandfather and uncle in the disaster.

‘Kevin has achieved the extraordinary’

Former lifeboat press officer, Mary Harris, said “Kevin is an ordinary Orkney man, but with his fellow lifeboat crew members he has achieved the extraordinary.

Longhope Lifeboat Station.Supplied by Googlemaps.

“As coxswain for 20 years he has managed to keep the Longhope lifeboat active, in spite of the limited pool of recruits in our small community.

“As lifeboat press officer and then deputy launching authority, I soon became aware that his kindness, enthusiasm and dedication which, together with his outstanding seamanship, have been the driving force behind the Longhope lifeboat.

“I wish him all the very best on his retirement as coxswain and I’m sure his ancestors would have been proud of him.”

Mr Kirkpatrick’s skill and dedication have also been officially recognised by the RNLI on a number of occasions.

He was accorded a vellum for his leadership and seamanship in 2004 when the lifeboat came to the rescue of the yacht Dasher and her three crew in wind speeds of up to 85 knots.

RNLI Longhope with Peterhead volunteer crew members.

And, in 2007, he and the volunteer crew were presented with a framed letter of thanks from the then chairman, Admiral Sir Jock Slater.

The crew, in its first major service in the then new lifeboat, Helen Comrie, saved an injured man from tanker FR8 Venture in force 12 north-westerly winds and a 50ft swell.

‘A star and a rock’

John Budge, former lifeboat operations manager and mechanic, said “Kevin has put his all into the station at Longhope.

“A conscientious leader and a patient teacher with time for everyone, he has been a star and a rock. He was made for the role of coxswain, carrying with him the weight of lifeboat tradition on both sides of his family, which began with his great grandfather Thomas Gunn, the bowman on the first Longhope lifeboat.”

Ex Royal Navy serviceman, Alan Mackinnon, who joined the volunteer crew in 2018 said “I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of working with Kevin during my time with the RNLI at Longhope.

“A vastly experienced and knowledgeable leader, he is one of the nicest and most professional people that I have ever worked with.”

Beyond his role as coxswain, Mr Kirkpatrick was also thanked for his time and energy in fundraising and supporting the work of the RNLI in the community.

Trish Avis, current president of the Longhope Lifeboat Guild, said: “Longhope Lifeboat Guild will very much miss Kevin, nothing was ever too much trouble for him in helping the guild in their fundraising efforts. We wish him all the best in the future.”

Mr Kirkpatrick’s last day as full-time coxswain will be May 19.

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