Fishermen battled to save their livelihoods last week when Porthleven’s sea defences crumbled – causing the loss of ten boats.
The eight balks (giant pieces of wood) meant to protect the inner harbour from the main brunt of the sea were entirely washed away, resulting in huge waves rolling into the normally protected waters.
It led to the 40 boats taking shelter in the inner harbour to be “tossed around like toys” according to one eyewitness.
Ten sunk, with three of them a total loss.
The entire community moved quickly to save the other boats from the clutches on the sea, with the fishermen joined by farmers and owners of 4x4 vehicles.
One farmer travelled from Leedstown to help, while plumbers brought their vans and one taxi driver even used his personal car.
A large crane pulled large boats out, with a smaller crane also in use while the water was it the harbour.
Once the tide went out tractors and vehicles were used to pull out the smaller vessels.
Harbourmaster Phil Ward said: “Thank you to everybody that turned out and helped to get the boats out – especially the farmers and people with 4x4s. There were probably 100 people down there through the day.”
He described the situation as “heartbreaking” for all involved, adding: “You sit there and watch your boat, and think you can’t do anything about it.
“I wouldn’t let anybody out there – I couldn’t afford to lose a life out of it. You can always replace a boat, not a life.”
Mr Ward said he had never seen such push behind the waves, which led to 18 inches of water coming over the edge of the harbour, above quay level.
David Toy, skipper owner of the Sheila T, was one of the lucky ones. He had been doing a refit on his boat, which meant she was already on dry land – although that almost didn’t save her, as the force of the waves meant she only narrowly avoided being floated off the edge of the harbour.
Despite this, he has still lost hundreds of pounds worth of equipment that were washed to the bottom of the harbour.
Mr Toy, who is currently working on deep sea trawlers, but has fished out of Porthleven full time for the last seven years, said: “I’m fortunate that I’ve got my boat, but I’ve lost about £700 in ropes and buoys and nets.
“I’ve been here all my life and although I’ve seen seas the same, not the storm surge.”
He described coming off the back of the spring tide, rather than immediately during it, was their “saving grace” – a few days earlier and the story could have been very different.
As it was ten boats were lost to the water, although none belonging to the five fishermen that count on the sea as their livelihood.
However, Gary Eastwell, one of the fulltime commercial fishermen, came close, with the sea washing into a normally protected quay.
“We’ve been lucky, in a sense, here – it could have been a lot worse,” added Mr Toy.
Another of the fishermen, Jonathan Fletcher from Ruan Minor, admitted that initially he feared the worst for his vessel the St Ruan.
“When I was phoned and told the baulks had gone I thought, ‘That will be it. It will be sunk.’ But I must have been in a lucky spot – it hung on. I’ve got superficial damage and that’s all,” he said.
The Porthleven Fishermen’s Association is now collecting for the fishermen who have lost out financially – in particular for the cost of lifting their boats out the harbour, which they covered themselves.
To help with the cause the Atlantic Inn in Porthleven is holding a day of fundraising this Saturday (February 15) with a coffee morning at 10.30am to include a raffle.
Then, from 8pm, there will be bingo, with prizes donated by businesses in the area, and entertainment provided by local musician Bob Seymour.
During the interval an auction of more valuable prizes will take place, together with a raffle stocked again by local businesses.
Also for the association, Skinners Brewery is offering to donate 5p from every pint of its beer ‘Porthleven’ sold across February to the Fisherman’s Association.
Falmouth pub The Boathouse has already given a £750 donation.
David Toy feared his boat the Sheila T would float over the wall into the harbour due to the force of the waves.