The Sevenstones lightship that we boarded while filming for Trinity House guards the approaches to the Isles of Scilly. Indeed nearby low- level rocks growl out of the sea, even on a calm, sunny day like the one we enjoyed on task. They form part of the dangerous seas all round the islands, that have been the graveyard of many a ship, famously four from a fleet commanded by Sir Cloudesley Shovell (picture), comprehensively wrecked in 1707 after going badly off course in appalling weather. The ‘Scilly Naval Disaster’ saw the death of up to 2,000 Royal Navy personnel, including Sir Cloudesley and his two stepsons – a tragic end to a brilliant naval career. The multitude of fanged rocks around the Isles still lie in wait for mariners – but the odds are far better now, with Trinity House on watch…
When told that I’d be going aboard the Sevenstones lightship to film the maintenance team from THV (“Trinity House Vessel”) ‘Galatea’ there was a certain amount of knowing looks and wry shaking of heads. Further inquiry revealed that I was very likely in for an experience only to be willingly endured by the most determined birdwatcher – you know, the type who’ll hang over a cliff to glimpse a tern. This because most seabirds, on seeing a lightship, seem to think “Aha! Time for a little visit!” and make themselves comfortable on the ship. All over it, in fact. I was warned the stench and slippiness would be abominable. But we all got lucky. Sevenstones was clean enough to satisfy the most exacting First Officer, alow and aloft. They even left the solar panels untarnished (picture.) Not gullty, in fact! (Ouch.)
…the Sevenstones Lightship from THV ‘Galatea’ is a ticklish business. I joined the maintenance team from the Trinity House flagship, who were going aboard on a routine visit. Along with them went two lads from the Met Office, tasked with checking the weather-watching gear aboard. Some of it a bit long in the tooth, but still serviceable. Anyway, as we came alongside a frightful screeching arose, seemingly from nowhere. Couldn’t work out what it was, as we rose up and down in the swell awaiting the right moment to seize the fixed ladder to get aboard. Ticklish really is the word for this seemingly simple manoeuvre – one slip between boat and ship and you’re lucky to get away with just a broken leg. And the screeching? The ship’s bird scarer, to keep pooping seabirds from doing it on deck!
One of Trinity House Vessel (‘THV’) Galatea’s key tasks is maintaining lightships. This (picture) is the Sevenstones Lightship, off the Isles of Scilly. Once manned, but now fully automated, like Trinity House’s remarkable lighthouse network, the Sevenstones Lightship rides the waves day in and day out; warning mariners off one of the most dangerous landfalls – against stiff competition – in the British Isles. Automated maybe, but as always there’s no substitute for hands-on checking; the illimitable power of the oceans can do strange things and great damage to any ship, and particularly to one that must sit at anchor and take whatever storms Old Father Neptune may summon. And with the Scilly Isles the UK point of arrival for the giant energies the Atlantic has gathered across its 106,460,000 square kilometres, Sevenstones has to be tough to tough it out…
On board Trinity House Vessel (‘THV’) ‘Galatea’, work is made all the easier by the “We never close” approach of the galley, who serve up good-to-eat meals on the dot every day, breakfast, lunch and supper at times suitable for the “rise and shine” approach of the ship’s company. Chef Kevin Taylor and Junior Catering Rating Jack Oliver (picture) and their colleagues see to it that there’s something available 24/7 if you need a snack, along with fresh fruit, soft drinks, tea, coffee and all the toast anyone could want. Important, as a lot of the deckhand work is heavy duty: not just the normal ship handling tasks, in all weathers, but the skilled effort needed for buoy, lightship and lighthouse maintenance – ‘Galatea’s all year-round duty. Getting that done requires the right human fuel. And as for those flapjacks!
This (picture) is Tony Mack, Catering Manager, THV ’Galatea’. If you have a comfortable, and well-fed time aboard the Trinity House flagship (and you will) it’ll be thanks to Tony and his team. There is another watch with an equivalent team for when Tony & Co are on leave, but we didn’t meet up with them. Actually, ‘Catering Manager’ is a real understatement, as Tony manages all the home comforts side of life on board, from cabin allocation to laundry and supplies – all that’s needed to keep a happy ship, happy. Tony also has to look after guests many a top hotel would be very proud indeed to welcome – from the distinguished ‘Elder Brethren’ of Trinity House, right up to royalty, when Princess Anne the Princess Royal, Master of ‘The House’, comes aboard for an inspection voyage. No pressure, then…
Rob is a TV producer, reporter and camera operator with 30 years’ experience at the BBC, Channel 4 and ITN, in news, factual and documentary production. He is a four times award winner, whose awards include a coveted Royal Television Society award for his work on Channel 4 News. His association with The Maritime Foundation goes back to 1995, when he won the first Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award for a series of reports that led to a major documentary on the loss of the bulk carrier Derbyshire.
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