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"I always think ‘will our crew come home to their families?’" says Kessock lifeboat's first female launch authority

By Alasdair Fraser

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Mandie Cran, Kessock lifeboat's first female launch authority
Mandie Cran, Kessock lifeboat's first female launch authority

Mandie Cran was once one of only nine women serving in an army corps of 15,000 men.

The Avoch woman had spent fully 20 years in the forces before she experienced working alongside another female

Becoming the RNLI Kessock Lifeboat’s first female launch authority, then, feels as natural as taking to the water for the experienced sailor and Inverness Marina-based sailing instructor.

The 60-year-old, who “feels much younger”, has embraced the key safety role at the Kessock station fully aware of the responsibility it imbues.

The safety of volunteers to take to the waves to help others must be taken just as seriously as the dangers posed to those in distress.

At the age of 13, Mandie promised herself she would never let anyone tell her what she could or couldn't do in life just because she was a she.

That led to bold career moves including starting a business at 14, before joining the army and becoming an engineering officer with The Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME).

Kessock Lifeboat at speed.
Kessock Lifeboat at speed.

She is now very much maritime in outlook, a highly-qualified RYA Yachtmaster Instructor (Sail), having felt a bond with the open water from an early age while living in the Channel Islands.

“In 1978, the oil rig Orion broke free from her tow in a force 10 gale and went aground on the west coast of Guernsey,” she recalled.

“It was so close to the beach that the local television cameras recorded the entire rescue, as the boat pitched in huge breaking waves to rescue those on board just feet from the beach.

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“I can still see the coverage all very clearly in my mind and remember thinking ‘wow – what those guys go out in is so impressive’.”

A childhood spent on the islands of Sark and Mull strengthened her bond with the sea.

“We were all very aware of the sacrifices that the lifeboat crew made. I have therefore always had a huge respect for the RNLI and would have liked to join, but joined the army for 34 years," she said.

“I had a very busy life as an engineering officer but was often away skippering offshore expeditions and teaching sailing. I have sailed all my life and knowing that there are people who are prepared to go out in all conditions, to save those they don’t know, has always been hugely reassuring.”

Her family returned to Scotland two years ago, and she works as an RYA sailing instructor at Compass Sea School in Inverness.

“I also do coastal rowing and the safety boat at Chanonry Sailing Club. When I heard they were looking for launch authorities I thought that, finally, I could support the lifeboat and give something back for all the reassurance they have given me over the years.

North Kessock lifeboat station.
North Kessock lifeboat station.

“Throughout my career, I was always the first female in a role, so being the first female launch authority feels completely normal!

“Kessock actually has a very high proportion of women involved, compared to many lifeboat stations.

“We have a female helm who qualified a couple of years ago.

“Having come from 34 years in the army, where every job I did I was the first woman, even if there had been resistance I wouldn’t have noticed.

“I was an army engineering officer so I worked in workshops fixing everything from rifles to tanks.

“There were only nine women in a corps of 15,000 men and we never saw each other. Every role I went to, I was the only woman in the worksop and in the regiment.

“From day one, it was just completely normal.

“What I found in the army was that they would test you for the first six months to see if you were up to it. Once you proved you could do the job, after that they were fine.

“I actually encountered very little misogyny in the army, at all. I’ve seen more of it since coming out of the army, actually.”

The launch authority’s role is to ensure it is safe for the volunteer crew to launch on a rescue.

This involves checking tidal information, weather forecasts and details of the rescue mission itself.

If deemed unsafe, the volunteer crew will not be authorised to launch.

“I know the local area as I own my own boat and have sailed around it. I understand what the conditions will be like and what they will be going out to, which is really important,” Mandie said.

“Without that understanding, it can affect your judgement.

“My defining thought is always ‘will our crew come back to their families safe and sound?’," she added.

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