For many years the RNLI had been replacing traditionally-shaped lifeboats of wooden construction with fast lifeboats using modern boat-building techniques and materials. in 1983, a programme was begun to introduce fast carriage-launched lifeboats at 22 stations. As part of this initiative, the Mersey class lifeboat Spirit of Derbyshire was allocated to Ilfracombe. She was funded, not only by an appeal in Derbyshire organised by Mrs Winifred Hilton, wife of the Lord Lieutenant, but also by local fund-raisers who collected over £50,000.
A Mersey class lifeboat is driven through the water by two V8 turbo-charged Caterpillar diesel engines, each delivering 280 h.p. Fitted in the spacious wheelhouse are the latest systems for radio-communications and satellite navigation, along with other important equipment such as a VHF direction-finder and first aid essentials. As far as Ilfracombe lifeboatmen were concerned this high-tech machine also brought the simple advantages of arriving at a casualty dry, warm and in half the previous time.
The Spirit of Derbyshire arrived at Ilfracombe on June 22, 1990, after a period of equipment trials and crew training. She was promptly called out for her first service on June 23, 1990, to a crew-member and his fishing-boat, ‘Our Fiona Mary’, which had broken down near Lundy Island. Two other fishing-boats had the casualty in tow, but they were beginning to struggle against the tide.
To date, there have been some notable services by the Spirit of Derbyshire. The first was to three boats from Combe Martin and Watermouth, which had taken visitors out on fishing trips when the wind freshened to a Force 8 westerly gale and the seas became rough. One of the boats was towed to a sheltered anchorage with two lifeboatmen left on board to assist. Coxswain Clemence then took the lifeboat to a second boat, now in Combe Martin harbour, where heavy seas were breaking on to the beach, making any landing impossible. He turned the lifeboat round in its own length and held her head to sea with skilful use of the engine throttles, while a seasick man and a boy were transferred to the lifeboat. The lifeboat then returned to the other boats and eventually fifteen people were landed safely at Ilfracombe. A Letter of Appreciation was sent from the BNLI to Cox. David Clemence and his crew in recognition of this service.
On March 31, 1994, conditions on Bidetord Bar were "the worst experienced for 30 years." The Appledore lifeboat had pulled the fishing-boat ‘Torridge Warrior’ clear from the surf, intending to tow the casualty to Ilfracombe. As the seas off Morte Point, to the west of Ilfracombe, would be particularly heavy, the Spirit of Derbyshire was now launched. Between Morte Point and Bull Point the gale had increased to Storm Force 10, and under the enormous strain the towing-post of the casualty came away, destroying its controls. The ‘Torridge Warrior’ was now completely disabled. Ilfracombe lifeboat took up the tow at 13.30, using the casualty’s stern-posts. Eventually, having waited for enough water for safe entry, all three vessels entered llfracombe Harbour at 19.00. Divisional Inspector of Lifeboats Captain Hugh Fogarty reported: "Coxswains Bowden and Putt carried out this service in extreme weather conditions. Both exhibited excellent seamanship." Cox. Bowden was awarded the Bronze Medal of the RNLI, and Cox. Putt the Thanks of the Institution on Vellum. Other members of the llfracombe crew received Vellum Service Certificates.
During the night and in the early hours of November 11, 1995, the yacht ‘Jakama’ got into serious difficulties to the west of Bull Point in very rough seas whipped up by a Force 8 easterly gale. The relief lifeboat ‘Lifetime Care’ was launched at 06.14. By means of VHF radio-direction-finder, she located the casualty which had sustained sail and engine failure. After several attempts in the severe conditions, 2nd Cox. Andrew Bengey was put aboard the yacht, where he found the crew of three in a state of distress. Having ensured their safety, he secured a tow-line, and the ‘Jakama’ was taken to Appledore and put on a safe estuary mooring. The lifeboat returned to Ilfracombe at 11.08. For this service, Letters of Thanks from the RNLl were sent to Cox. Andrew Putt and Andrew Bengey.