A lonely hut standing on the Coast Path at Pednavaden Point, Portscatho, is the only reminder of the original Coastguard, an organisation formed in the 1800’s to provide a safety watch over Britain’s immense coastline. Its predecessor, the Preventive Water Guard, was formed in 1802 and in 1809 this was renamed Coastguard.
Its purpose was to watch over and try to effect rescue of ships and crews in distress and to do this a system of watch houses was built around the coast as lookouts. Two were built on the Roseland, one at Portloe and the other at Pednavaden, precisely when is not known.
The lookout service underwent various changes and reorganisations often brought about by Governments looking at developments in communications at sea and how to get ‘value for money’ and ‘greater efficiency’. Governments don’t change! Staffing was steadily reduced from the blanket cover of the early 1800’s, necessary because communication was only possible by flags, semaphore, etc, needing extensive visual watch, to a much reduced cover by 1990.
A further review then decided that, because all commercial vessels and most pleasure ones had radio, a visual watch was unnecessary. That aspect of the Service was disbanded, many staff made redundant and the lookouts were abandoned. Then, in 1994, two fishermen were drowned immediately below the old lookout on Bass Point on the Lizard Peninsular. T
here was an outcry and a group of locals decided to reopen the lookout with volunteer watchers. Interest in the idea spread along the coast and the National Coastwatch Institution was formed. Cornwall was the leading light, then it spread to Devon and around the south of England. Today there are over 40 stations and there are lookouts up the east and west coasts.
NCI Portscatho, your local station, is manned by volunteers during the summer months, five days a week, during the day. A shift covers 2 ½ to 3 hours and ladies as well as men are involved. Few of us have any ‘maritime experience’ and full training is given.
There is a monthly meeting at Portscatho and these carry on during the winter when more time is devoted to training. These meetings are more like social outings and we successfully manage to combine serious work with much hilarity without losing the purpose of our existence – to provide a professional, highly trained organisation capable of supporting the full time emergency services.
We need more volunteers. Age does not matter, previous knowledge is not required. You need to be fit enough to be able to walk out along the coast path to get to the lookout, a distance of about 200 yards, and that is it. If you are curious and want to find out a bit more, walk out there one day, Thursday to Monday, 9.30 – 5pm. If the flag is flying, someone is there and will welcome a visit.
Alternatively telephone Pat Rigley on 01872501838 or Alan Baptist on 01326270294