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EYES ALONG THE COAST
Registered Charity No. 1159975
At the beginning of the 1990’s Captain Tony Starling Lark, a North Sea Pilot, had become increasingly alarmed at the number of accidents between large Merchant vessels and Fishing vessels, particularly in the Dover Straits.
The sinking of three fishing vessels, MARGARET & WILLIAM, OCEAN and WILHELMINA in 1991 with heavy loss of life had raised considerable concerns in many quarters. To try to arouse public awareness, and to help investigate these losses, Tony Starling Lark took a BBC Film Crew, together with a Fishing Boat Skipper (who had himself suffered a hit and run situation with a large merchant vessel) on a normal pilotage assignment from Brixham to a Continental port on a large container vessel. During this passage both Captain Starling Lark and the Fishing Skipper realised that neither of them had a basic knowledge of each other’s problems when handling their vessels, the quite different requirements each had when using the same stretch of water, and the need for both to make a safe living from the sea.
From this experiment, the Sea Safety Group was formed to try to bring awareness to all Mariners, whatever their calling, of each other’s problems and special requirements. In 1994, whist boarding a ship off Brixham in an easterly gale, Captain Starling Lark jokingly remarked, "Ah well, if I fall over the side at least the Lookout on Berry Head should see me." He was horrified to learn that the CG Lookout was no longer manned following the reorganisation of the Coastguard Service. About the same time, two fishermen were lost at sea almost under the old CG Lookout at Bass Point on the eastern part of the Lizard Peninsula.
This prompted Peter Rayment, a Director of SSG, to suggest that the group tries to acquire the lookout, reinstate it to working order, and man it with Volunteers. The story goes that after a day of intense discussion, by ten o’clock that evening the National Coastwatch Institution was born with the entire salient points down on paper.
Thanks to the tremendous help received from the National Trust who own the Lookout at Bass Point, NCI was able to sign a lease to use the property for a peppercorn rent. The National Trust had also granted the Institution the lease on the Lookout at Cape Cornwall.
In October 1994, a public meeting was held at the Football Club House on Lizard by Capt. Starling Lark and Peter Rayment during which they put their ideas to the meeting, they then asked if anyone would be prepared to volunteer as a watchkeeper. There was a very good response, with one local fisherman standing up and saying “…. I reckon we have seen history being made here…”. The next meeting soon after saw the appointment of NCI’s first Station Manager, Lynn Briggs, a truly remarkable lady. Whether she realised what she had taken on we shall never know, but a lot of what we do in NCI today owes much to Lynn’s pioneering work in the early days at Bass Point.
Bass Point started operational watchkeeping in November 1994, many volunteers being either fishermen or deep-
Following the successful launch of NCI Bass Point, other Stations quickly followed around England and Wales, and now, in early 2021 there are 56 Stations operational along the coasts with some 2,600 volunteers giving their time and effort to try to make our shores that little bit safer for all who use them. The Institution is working on other possible stations which we hope will become operational soon.
The Institution has a joint Memorandum of Understanding with the Maritime Coastguard Agency, and with HM Customs & Excise, these two documents are the guides to NCI’s role and provide the basis for the excellent working relationship the Institution enjoys with both these Departments. Many NCI Stations have acquired, or are working towards acquiring, Declared Facility Status, giving NCI a very important role to play when needed within the UK’s Search & Rescue Organisation, thanks to the dedicated help from all the Volunteers who give freely of their time and effort.