Tobermory RNLI volunteers go the extra mile

Tobermory RNLI 11 year old super-supporter, Ben Sellwood of Stroud cycling, reading and running during his very own 17-39 challenge. Credit: RNLI/Polly Stone.

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Coxswain David McHaffie and his wife Seonaid meeting his mother, Fundraising Branch Chair Carolyn McHaffie who was completing her 100th mile.

Tobermory RNLI’s volunteers have gone the extra mile for their virtual lifeboat week – 2,184 to be precise, raising over £3,500 for the charity which saves lives at sea.

The annual Lifeboat Day had been scheduled to be held on Sunday August 16, but the station’s volunteers realised very early on that the event would not be possible due to Covid-19. So instead they decided to move the event online and have a Virtual Lifeboat Week instead..

The key event was the ‘17-39 Challenge’ inspired by the number of Tobermory’s all-weather lifeboat, Elizabeth Fairlie Ramsey. The lifeboat’s number is 17-39 because it is 17 metres in length and was the 39th Severn class lifeboat to be built.

Tobermory’s volunteers undertook to walk, run, swim, cycle or row a total of 1,739 miles between August 1 and 16. The volunteers not only reached the target three days early but went on to complete 2,184 miles in total – the equivalent of travelling across the Atlantic from Tobermory to Newfoundland or circumnavigating the Isle of Mull more than seven times.

Fundraising chairperson Carolyn McHaffie at Langamull during her 100 mile 17-39 challenge. Photograph: RNLI.

Seven volunteers joined the 17-39 100 Club by completing more than 100 miles each: coxswain David McHaffie, navigator Mick Stirling, crew member Iain ‘Ogg’ Mackenzie, fundraising chair Carolyn McHaffie, shop volunteers Allison Spillane and Maggie Robson, and lifeboat operations Manager Sam Jones. Carolyn walked the equivalent of five marathons and Ogg had the highest individual total, cycling 326.82 miles – more than the vertical height of the International Space Station. The highest one day total was 169 miles on Wednesday, August 12 which is more than the distance between Tobermory and Edinburgh.

The miles were covered through a variety of activities. Coxswain David and volunteers Rose Skelton and Seonaid McHaffie swam. Ogg, Rose, Alec Brown and David all cycled. crew member Alexander ‘Wee Jock’ Anderson rowed a dinghy, mechanic Paul ‘Gunny’ Gunn rowed on a machine and navigator Mick ran on a treadmill.

Eleven-year-old super-supporter, Ben Sellwood of Stroud cycling, reading and running during his very own 17-39 challenge. Photograph: RNLI/Polly Stone.

The challenge reached as far afield as Stroud in Gloucestershire where Tobermory RNLI 11-year-old ‘super-supporter’ Ben Sellwood has been undertaking his own 17-39 challenge. Ben has completed 17.39 km on a bike and has also run 17.39 km. The final element of his challenge is to read 1,739 pages of several books by the end of August. Ben has already raised nearly £300, beating his target of £174.

Other activities during Virtual Lifeboat Week included the ever popular shop window quiz, a Facebook ‘lucky dip’ to win a bag of RNLI shop goodies and an online display of old photographs from the past 30 years dating back to when the station re-opened in 1990. Accomplished Scottish artist, G. Scott Grier also donated a beautiful landscape painting which raised more than £500 in a silent auction.

Fundraising Chair Carolyn McHaffie said: ‘We are overwhelmed by the generous support which we have received from locals and visitors, particularly in these difficult times. Thank you to all of our supporters who have donated. We also extremely grateful to Scott Grier for donating such a beautiful painting to boost our fundraising.’

Lifeboat Operations Manager Dr Sam Jones added: ‘The 17-39 challenge was a real team effort not only by our crew but our fundraisers, shop volunteers and other station volunteers.

‘It shows that we really are ‘one crew’ at the station. We’re hugely grateful to everyone who has supported us as Covid-19 has severely impacted the RNLI’s fundraising this year and as a charity we are dependent on the generous donations from the public, so thank you very much indeed.

‘We are also very grateful to Ben Sellwood for his epic challenge and we look forward to welcoming him to the station as a VIP visitor next year.’

You can still donate at

If you wish to support Ben Sellwood, you can donate at