PICTURE GALLERY: Legendary lifeboat is restored and put back on the water at Wells

She braved mountainous waves and blizzard conditions but always brought her crew home in one piece.

Now, after taking brave crews of men out on life-saving missions from Wells for 25 years, between 1965 and 1990, the Ernest Tom Neathercoat lifeboat has been restored to her former glory.

Men who served on the lifeboat watched as she was lifted by crane into the water at Wells Quay on Tuesday.

David Hewitt, 50, from Blakeney, spent six years painstakingly restoring the lifeboat, working from his boatyard at Stiffkey.

He said: 'I did it for these boys. This boat means a tremendous amount to the people who used to serve on her. There has been some fantastic seamen working the North Norfolk coast over the years and it's great to see some of them here.'

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Among them were David Cox, who was coxswain at Wells for more than 25 years, current coxswain Allen Frary, who went out on the boat's final mission from Wells, former coxswains Graham Walker and Tony Jordan and former crewman Alan Cooper.

Mr Cox, 86, from Wells, recalled a famous mission on February 15, 1979 when he and his crew went out to sea for 11 hours to rescue a Romanian cargo vessel, Savinesti, which was stranded 17 miles north-east of Wells.

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The Savinesti had 23 people aboard and broke down and lost both anchors in hurricane-force conditions.

The crew also had to contend with rough seas and sub-zero temperatures but helped to ensure that everyone survived.

Mr Cox said: 'It was as rough as it could be. Our radar went kaput and I had to rely on my seamanship and an old compass to find the vessel. I can see it now when I close my eyes, it appeared like a huge dark shadow in front of us.

'We feared for our lives at some points on that mission. It was a day I will never forget.'

He added: 'She is a fine rescue boat and I think David has done a marvellous job.'

Restoring the Ernest Tom Neathercoat has been a personal undertaking for Mr Hewitt. The boat had been on display near Wells beach but had become weather-beaten and left in a rotting state of decay.

Mr Hewitt offered to restore the boat after speaking to the owners and former crew members.

She will be kept at Blakeney harbour and used for special events.

Mr Hewitt said: 'I want to emphasise it is not a toy boat, more like a working museum piece.

'It will go out for things like Wells Harbour Day, any fund-raising events the Wells lifeboat station might want to use it for and for projects run by the Rescue Wooden Boats charity.'

Mr Hewitt's work on the Ernest Tom Neathercoat sparked the founding of Rescue Wooden Boats.

The EDP has previously reported how the charity was set up in August last year by Mr Hewitt, his brother George, who are both boat-builders, along with wooden boat owners and enthusiasts Graeme Peart and Wendy Pritchard.

The charity, based at Stiffkey, aims to acquire, restore, maintain and use heritage maritime wooden craft and to keep the ancient craft of boat building alive.

Mr Cox said: 'It is great to see them doing this. A lot of youngsters don't know what life used to be like on the North Norfolk coast and it's important that they do.'

Another boat restored at the Hewitt boatyard at Stiffkey is the Horace Clarkson, a Rother Class lifeboat, which was also re-launched on Tuesday.

The charity Rescue Wooden Boats is gathering momentum since it was set up in August last year.

It is making plans to open a visitor and education centre where people can learn about the charity's work at the Old Military Camp at Stiffkey.

The charity is restoring Dunkirk veteran Liverpool Class lifeboat Lucy Lavers which served at Wells during her time in the relief fleet.

The Lucy Lavers has been described as the charity's flagship project and efforts are being made to secure a Heritage Lottery grant to contribute towards the expensive work which already been supported by Witham Oil & Paint Ltd and Marine & Industrial LLP.

The plan is to complete Lucy Lavers by the end of 2014 in time to take her back by sea for June 2015 – the 75th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation of troops, calling at harbours on the way so she can be seen by the public.

The restoration of the Liverpool Class lifeboat Robert Lindsay has almost been completed and Rescue Wooden Boats will also restore some local fishing boats so they can be used on the water again.

For more on the Rescue Wooden Boats charity and how to support it visit www.rescuewoodenboats.com, email info@rescuewoodenboats.com, telephone 07920 760238 or write to 14 Norton Street, Burnham Norton, Kings Lynn, PE31 8DR.

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