In the early 1970’s there were 43 cliff-top coastguard stations, 160 lighthouses and 30 lightships around our coastline. All were manned 24 hours a day keeping safe watch over our busy waters and coastal areas. Following a government review it was decided that lighthouses be automated and coastguard lookouts, manned during daylight hours, be closed and major stations be reduced in numbers.
NCI is now responsible to HMCG for the provision, maintenance and operation of declared facilities. Each station is organised by a manager, manned by volunteer watchkeepers and is responsible for raising money to fund its own operations.
In May 1996 at Portland Bill a small band of enthusiasts lead by Dave Crabb, who became the first Station Manager, undertook the formidable task of refurbishing a dilapidated station that had previously been manned by Coastguard staff as a look-out and signal station, which had been on constant watch by night and day. Initial refurbishment was completed in early 1997, and on 27th May of that year it was declared officially open.
However, the lookout, which had been built in 1934 was still inadequte. The watch room was cosy to say the least with just enough room for 2 watchkeepers and after a massive fund raising campaign it was totally rebuilt in 2004. It we recommenced operations on the 27th July 2004, marking the occasion with a service of blessing conducted by the Reverend Anita Thorne & attended by 100 guests. Whiskey Bravo (the Coastgaurd SAR Helicopter) flew past in honour of the occasion.
The re-build increased the watch room size from 7′ x 9′ to 12’9” x 16′ and gave extra space below for storage, a meeting room and a sewing room for our flag maker’s industrial sewing machine. In 2007 thanks to generosity of Maiden Windows an extended storm porch was fitted at the top of the stairs, with a door opening onto a balcony on three sides. This has not only given us extra space and access, but also provided much needed safety for watchkeepers.
The originally building had a 50ft Canadian Pine mast; this was replaced by a new steel reinforced fibre glass mast with yard arm, and the good wood from the old mast was used to make various items such as door stops and fruit bowls, which were sold at fund-raising events.
We were very honoured to have the new lookout officially opened by HRH The Princess Royal.On the day the weather threw everything at us – rain and a force 9 gale. During her visit the Princess Royal observed the rescue of a yacht which was in difficulty in heavy seas, off the bill, manning our high powered binoculars during the incident. We could not have staged a better event to demonstrate the work we do at Coastwatch Portland Bill . We were first ashore to spot this yacht in trouble, we reported it to HMCG in Weymouth and then relayed the May Day when it was transmitted by the yacht, a short time afterwards. Our planned “tea Party” for the visit had to be moved to the local inn, where Geoff Peters, Station Manager said “It’s not every day I take a princess to the pub”.
Following a visit, the Mayor of Portland, Tim Woodcock, was so impressed with the work of the watch that he asked if he could join the team. He started training in January 2006 along with seven other recruits.
In 2009, NCI Portland Bill were the proud winners of the annual Wessex Charity Team Award. There were 200 applicants and it was a great honour for our team to be chosen. A gala event presentation was held at the Rosebowl, Hampshire in February of 2010. The Awards were organised by PAS Consultants, Winchester. As a result, Meridian TV made a 10 minute feature at our lookout, this was screened throughout the region then sold onto Westward. It was good for us at Portland and excellent publicity for NCI and work we do.