Every activity session that we run from our South Coast base on the Roseland Peninsula passes the old “Wreck Post” above Towan Beach; sea kayaking sessions paddle past it, viewing it from sea-level, whilst those joining us for Ecoasteering walk past it on the South West Coast Path as we head around to our start point.
It’s an unusual landmark, being a freestanding post on the cliff edge above the south end of the beach with steps that allow a person to climb to the top of it. The post was originally erected by the coastguard as a replica ship’s mast, to be used during training exercises. Volunteer coastguards could practice firing a rocket and line at the “mast”, and they could then tie the line to the top of the post and practice rescues using a breeches buoy. The breeches buoy was a device used to rescue the crew of a wrecked ship to get them safely to shore by pulling them along the line in the same way that a zip-wire works. It was made up of a lifebuoy (a rescue ring) suspended from the line, with a pair of canvas “breeches” (shorts) attached, in which the person being rescued would sit ready to be hauled ashore.
In this way the crew and passengers of stricken vessels could be transferred to safety one at a time. Cornishman Henry Trengrouse invented the breeches buoy in the early 1800s, and the use of this equipment helped to save thousands of lives. The Wreck Post above Towan Beach now stands as a memorial to the coastguard volunteers who saved so many lives along this stretch of coast.