- A mile offshore from the watch, and just below the surface, lies The Runnel Stone, a hazardous rock pinnacle. At low water, it used to show above the waterline until struck by a steamship in 1923! However, the Stone and surrounding reef are still considered extremely treacherous to navigation and records show that, between 1880 and 1923, over thirty identified vessels were wrecked, stranded or sunk in the area (and, probably, many more unrecorded incidents, as well!). That being the case, it is definitely not an area where any vessel wants to experience engine trouble, especially with heavy squally showers, a 3-metre swell and a westerly Force 6 blowing. However, recently, our watchkeeper was contacted by Falmouth Coastguard and asked to keep an eye on a 20-metre fishing vessel, about 3.3 miles off the headland, which had reported intermittent engine problems!
Our watchkeeper maintained visual on the trawler and then noticed it had stopped making progress. He immediately rang FCG and informed them of the changing situation, and was told that they would task the Penlee All-Weather Lifeboat (AWLB) “Ivan Ellen” to the scene. He then maintained a continuous watch on the ‘casualty’ which was drifting closer to the reef as its engine, reportedly, “slipped in and out of consciousness”! Fortunately, just as the Ivan Ellen arrived on the scene, the trawler managed to get its engines reliably restarted and the AWLB then escorted her back to Newlyn for repair.
- Two members of the public arrived at the watch, somewhat breathless after running all the way up the track from Porthgwarra Cove. They reported seeing a man of “senior age” (their words, not mine!) who paddled out from the beach on a short body board and then appeared to be caught by the current and swept round Hella Point. The inshore tidal current between Porthcurno and Lands End is a dangerous beast – depending on where it is in the cycle, it turns from East to West and speeds up from 1 knot to 5 knots. This is far too strong to paddle against and brings the risk of sweeping body-boarders out beyond Lands End, into the Celtic Sea.Our watchkeeper immediately contacted Falmouth Coastguard (FCG) via a 999 call and reported the incident, as well as prevailing weather and tidal conditions. The Sennen lifeboat was launched and our watchkeeper commenced scanning the area in an effort to achieve a visual fix (albeit, it was highly likely that the bodyboarder was so close in to the cliffs as to be out of sight). In the meantime, the two members of the public started walking back to the Cove. However, a few minutes later, they recontacted the watch to say that they had seen the person and that he appeared to be in control, and paddling back to the Cove. Our watchkeeper immediately passed this update back to FCG. However, the lifeboat attended the scene, confirmed all was well and then returned to Sennen. In the meantime, our watchkeeper was informed that another member of the public (a relative?) had spoken to the person on the beach and “severely reprimanded him”, the gentleman in question seeming “very contrite”!
Over the weekend, we took along our NCI Gwennap Head Human Fruit Machine to the ever-popular St.Buryan Steam Rally. Normally held every year, the pandemic meant that it had to be cancelled in 2021 and 2020. So, as the ‘Welcome Back’ event, there was a superb turnout of both exhibitors and visitors. Our Human Fruit Machine proved to be a great success, presenting NCI in a great light to all, and providing much merriment and laughter to everyone who played. We also had quite a few winners, most of whom, generously, put their winning into our collection box, or opted for another couple of spins [normally unsuccessfully!] on the ‘machine’. In all, we raised a fantastic £264 and had a great time doing it.
For the last 32 years, the Gry Maritha has maintained an all year round freight service lifeline between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly. On her three round trips a week, in all (and we do mean “all”!) weathers, we see her passing by Gwennap Head watch, bringing vital goods and supplies to the isles, for the benefit of locals and visitors, alike. But, judging by the flag she was flying on her bows yesterday when she passed the watch (see image), her crew have become a bit bored with the same old freight run, and are looking to branch out in a different direction.....
At 18.00, the end of their Watch, our watchkeeper had completed the closing-down procedure and had informed Falmouth Coastguard that NCI Gwennap Head was "logging off" (i.e. off-duty). They went to the windows to pull down the blinds and noticed two kayaks, paddling towards Porthgwarra Cove. All seemed well with them.....but standing on the rocks in front of the Watch was a young woman, waving both her arms, apparently at the two kayakers. With thoughts immediately turning to possible problems, our watchkeeper immediately went out on to our balcony and asked the lady whether she or the kayaks needed help? She replied “No” but was concerned that her brother and friend (the kayakers), although very experienced, were paddling hard and not appearing to be making any forward progress. Apparently, she was expecting to meet up with them in Porthgwarra Cove, at around. 19.00At that point in the tidal cycle (around 18.20), the current was running West at about I knot. However, just past the Runnel Stone, it would swing Easterly, in the kayakers favour. Although the watch was now officially closed, to try and reassure the lady, our watchkeeper invited her into the Watch, to look at our charts indicating how the very local currents behave at different states of the tide. Without much experience of the sea, she hadn't realised that the tides not only come in and out, but alter speed and direction almost every hour! These local tidal variations can disproportionally affect smaller craft so, when planning a trip, having the local knowledge and equipment to manage the voyage safely, is very important.Since the kayaks didn’t appear to be in any distress, and having logged the time and their position, there really wasn’t anything else for our watchkeeper to do other than close the Watch and give the lady a lift down to the cove, to await the arrival of her brother. However, she was advised that if they were longer than about 1/2 hour and she couldn't see them and was worried, she should call the coastguard with her concerns about them being overdue. As experienced kayakers, they were equipped with phones and radio. But better safe than sorry!
- A considerably more pleasant incident than normal! It’s not often we get to celebrate an exchange of wedding vows at our station. However, a couple recently decided that NCI Gwennap Head was exactly where they would like to be to make their vows and so, as the sun shone and a SE breeze blew, Richard and Sarah arrived with their witnesses, family and friends. Surrounded by gorse, granite and sea, the landscape at Gwennap Head made a very special backdrop for an informal ceremony, after their wedding at Penzance, that morning....and, to make sure that the celebrations continued, our Station Manager Ian Vinnicombe was on hand to present the bride and groom with a signed card and a bottle of bubbly, on behalf of Gwennap Head NCI. In the past, Richard had enjoyed many happy hours rock climbing in front of our watch (a favourite climbing spot for many climbers and the military), and both he and Sarah consider Gwennap Head to be a very special place. Hence their decision! As such, we were very happy to play our part in making their special day, extra-special. It’s not often we have such a happy occasion to witness and log, and so we wish Richard and Sarah every happiness in their new life together.
- Sea fishing is very popular in our area but, sometimes, the lure of a fish supper seems to make people forget about the risks from that watery medium which our aquatic friends exist in!
On a bright, crisp day, with a significant swell running, our watchkeeper was perturbed to see a small rib, with two people fishing from it, heading towards Kettle’s Bottom, the stretch of water between the Longships lighthouse and Lands End. Even at the best of times, the water in this area is ‘lively’ and, on this day, it was more like ‘excited’, possibly even ‘hyperactive’ (to stretch a simile!). Since the small rib was finding the swell heavy going, our watchkeeper contacted Falmouth Coastguard and was requested to maintain observation on the situation. Eventually, the rib rounded Land’s End (likely, with two extremely wet occupants) and disappeared from view behind Dr Syntax’s Head....since the sea there was no calmer than on our side of Land’s End, our watchkeeper immediately contacted NCI Cape Cornwall (our shoulder station) and asked them to acquire the rib and keep an eye on it, which they did.
On the basis that our watchkeeper heard nothing further and there was no VHF radio traffic about the situation, we assume that the two fisherman successfully reached wherever they were going. However, given the sea conditions and the small size of their vessel, they might have been better off with a trip to the local chippy, rather than trying to catch their own!
- The seas between Gwennap Head and the Scillies can be very rough. It's bad enough when the duty watchkeeper sees the ferry Scillonian III pitching up and down, so one can imagine how the crew of this shallow-draft work boat (see below) felt during a recent severe gale (40-50mph winds). Given the extremely unforgiving sea conditions, our watch keeper made sure to keep a very close eye on them, through our main spotting scope, whilst they were in our field of view.
- Even for West Cornwall, getting two 90mph+ storms on consecutive days (Eunice and Franklin) is a bit extreme! And, as might be expected, due to our highly exposed position, NCI Gwennap Head took quite a hammering. As well as having our west wall guttering ripped off and the roof flashing being partially pealed back, the scaffolding pole on which our weather station is mounted, was snapped by the continual buffeting inflicted by the storms (see the picture, below). Just before the pole snapped, our weather station was registering almost continual gusts of 94mph...and, since that’s what the anemometer tops out at, the speed was likely even a bit higher than that! Oh well, could have been worse...our colleagues at NCI St.Ives lost most of their roof! Also, props to our duty watchkeepers who, whilst Eunice was howling around, braved the gale with its 90+ mph gusts, to open the watch, that morning