Coastwatch marks 20 years - but iconic tower’s been there much longer
- Credit: Archant
When you go to Exmouth beach, it is easy to imagine that the iconic tower which is part of the Harbour View building has always been the home of the town’s coastwatch volunteers.
The fact is that Exmouth Coastwatch Institution (NCI) is celebrating 20 years of being in the tower.
There is a long and storied history behind the building which started more than 120 years ago.
The main building and tower was originally built for Exmouth Yacht Club in June 1896 to replace a corrugated-iron clubhouse.
However, problems with the cost of maintaining the building meant it was sold 15 years later to businessman Mr HS Robinson.
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He established it as a private seawater bathing facility, with sea water pumped in via an underground pipe from the beach.
This was short-lived and the building was vacated in 1904. It was sold to a Mr Hurdel a year later and used as a private residence until 1934.
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In 1935 it became a convalescent home as an annexe to the Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital in Exeter, which was later incorporated as part of Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
It was also used for military defence during World War Two and later was a canteen for American soldiers.
After the war, it was opened as Harbour View cafe and ice cream parlour by the Forte family in July 1946.
Sometime in the late 1970s, it passed to Bernard Hughes, trading as Shoreway Catering, and was later taken over by his daughter Dawn Hirst, who runs the café to this day.
It has been trading as a cafe for more than 70 years.
Exmouth Coastwatch Station is part of the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) and was established in 1998 as the 13th station of the NCI network.
Exmouth NCI is a ‘declared facility’, which means that the station is assessed annually to ensure it operates to the high standards required by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and so play its part in the UK Search and Rescue services.
In 2017, Exmouth was the third-busiest coastwatch station in the country so far as ‘incidents’ were concerned. These incidents are spread all over the Exe estuary and west end of Lyme Bay, which experiences extreme tidal flows and currents, particularly at the time of higher tides, when the speed of the falling tide may reach five or six knots.
This, together with the Pole Sands, which are covered at high tide, make the water dangerous for all manner of boat users, or simply swimmers who may be using untethered inflatable dinghies or rubber rings, or anything using Exmouth waters and beaches. Some 18 incidents were reported in 2016, with that total doubling last year. In 2018, there have already been more than nine incidents.
Exmouth Coastwatch has more than 75 volunteer watchkeepers who are on duty seven days a week. They are stationed from 9am to 6pm with enhanced hours between July and August.
Watchkeepers dedicate around 4,400 hours to Exmouth Coastwatch.
During each watch, vessels are logged in and out of the estuary, noting the time and, where possible, the name and type of the boats.
All vessel movements are recorded in a formal logbook and all watchkeepers make direct contact with the MCA in the event that a water user is in trouble.
In most cases, this results in a launch by Exmouth RNLI.
Exmouth Coastguard also contacts the watchkeepers when it has been made aware of an incident and needs someone to monitor the situation.
In 2017, Exmouth Coastwatch was awarded an Exmouth Chamber of Commerce business award for social enterprise/charity of the year and has been nominated for a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and despite not winning, they will be seeking that prize in 2019.
An open day was held recently to mark 20 years of voluntary vigilance on the seafront and to raise public awareness of the work it does.
Crew members from Exmouth’s RNLI base also attended with its inshore lifeboat.
Exmouth Coastwatch treasurer Zan Nye told the Journal it raised nearly £50 for the charity and thanked all its supporters.