Vigil over sailing waters

HRH The Princess Royal climbed a 100 ft ladder yesterday to see for herself the measures taken to maintain a safety vigil over the waters of the Solent, one of the busiest waterways in the world where leisure craft and commercial shipping vie for sailing space.

The Princess is patron of the National Coastwatch Institution and was at Calshot Tower where teams of volunteer watchkeepers maintain a daylight surveillance of the Solent and Southampton Water, year round.

But the tower’s viewing platform is near the top of the tower, 100 ft above ground level, and the only means of access is by way of vertical ladders inside the tower.

But once on the platform the Princess shared the panoramic view which watch keepers have daily, a 360-degree view over both the Solent and Southampton Water.

The Princess who arrived by helicopter, was met by the deputy Lord Lieutenant for Hampshire, Vice-Admiral Sir David Steel and introduced to Councillor Elaine Still, leader of Hampshire County Council; Councillor Mel Kendall, chair of New Forest Council,; Commander Lesley Suddes, chair of National Coastwatch Institution; Blake Holt, deputy chariot the Institution; and Steven Kingdon, DLA Calshot RNLI, along with Roger Taylor, Calshot NCI deputy station manager and Colin Lewis, senior watchkeeper.

After visiting the tower, the Princess met six groups of watchkeepers and presented epaulettes to new deputy station manager, five-year certificate to four watchkeepers and unveiled a plaque which will be fixed to the tower.

The tower itself on a mile-long sand and shingle bank at the seaward end of Southampton Water has been part of the National Coastwatch network keeping a visual eye on Britain’s coastline since 2010 and assists in the protection and preservation of life at sea around the coast. It is owned by Associated British Ports and built in 1973 as part of the port of Southampton’s radar chain and served as a Coastguard lookout until the 1990s and became the NCI station in the summer of 2010.

Like similar look-out stations around Britain’s coast, it is manned by a team of fully trained and dedicated volunteers who keep a daylight watch up to 365 days a year.

From the tower, watchkeepers have a view of about 11 nautical miles over the Solent and Southampton Water which is the approach to one of the country’s busiest ports with constant commercial traffic which includes the world’s largest cruise ships, container vessels and oil tankers as well as ferry services.

Over 6,500 major vessel movements were logged by the watchkeepers in one year, although their priority is to keep a look out for more vulnerable craft particularly in summer when thousands of yachts take to the same waters. More than 200 yachts could be within sight of the tower on any day in the summer.