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Daring abseilers brave dizzying lighthouse heights

09:00 15 August 2011

Actor Bernard Hill ready for the RNLI abseil down Southwold Lighthouse. Photo: Richard Lycett

Actor Bernard Hill ready for the RNLI abseil down Southwold Lighthouse. Photo: Richard Lycett

BRAVE fundraisers rappelled down the face of Southwold’s 31 metre lighthouse in aid of the RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards.

The sponsored abseil saw dozens of courageous souls patiently waiting their turn to descend the landmark tower yesterday.

Each donated a £25 registration fee and at least £100 in sponsorship for the RNLI, and anyone who didn’t fancy the dizzying drop could enjoy the lifeboat demonstrations, balloon races and sandcastle competitions taking place on the seafront the day before.

Among those who took part in the abseil was locally-based stage and screen actor Bernard Hill, who played Yosser Hughes in The Boys from the Blackstuff. A member of Southwold Sailing Club, his nautical connections also extend to his portrayal of Captain Edward John Smith in Titanic.

Abseilers had to first scale the 92-step circular staircase to the top of the lighthouse, before taking a bold step over the edge of the historic 122-year-old lighthouse which is usually used to guide vessels navigating the coast and approaching Southwold Harbour.

By mid-afternoon the fundraising total had already reached £15,000, boosting the hopes that the event would equal the £24,000 raised by the first lighthouse abseil two years ago.

An intrepid 96 abseilers signed up to take part this year - 16 more than in 2009 - and, despite eight cancellations, the vacant spots were offered up for a £75 donation.

Lifeboat operations manager John Huggins, who came up with the idea for the abseil two years ago, was the first to take the plunge on Sunday. He said: “It all went really well and we hope to achieve our fundraising target.” Mr Huggins added that the station was well up to speed with volunteer recruitment and even had one or two names waiting to step in when required.

A lifeboat was first stationed in Southwold in 1841. Today, there is 18-strong volunteer crew with members from all walks of life - including a businessman, a student, a boat builder, an airline pilot, a taxi driver and a teacher.

It promises to be a busy month for the Southwold team, who are preparing to move along shore for exercises and training while work is carried out to strengthen the north dock wall.

Last month, Southwold’s own relief lifeboat, Duckhams 2001, was called upon just two days after temporarily standing in for Leslie Tranmer, which is in Cowes for a refit and is expected to return in a couple of months.

Duckhams 2001 joined the Tyne Class Spirit of Lowestoft and local fishing boats to demonstrate how the RNLI saves lives at sea during the charity’s annual Lifeboat Day on Saturday.

The RNLI is independent from the government and relies on voluntary contributions and legacies for its income.

The crew’s kit for the Southwold Station alone costs about £1,000 per person.

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