If you want to find someone who epitomises the expression ‘Has salt water running through his veins’ then you need to meet Keith Pope, a Princess owner. Born and bred in Cornwall and one of the friendliest characters you’re ever likely to come across, Keith has been on, around, and indeed under the water since he was a boy. But the real story starts in 1991, when Keith bought ‘Josephine’, a Cygnus 38 Revenge heavy duty work boat, and based it in Hayle on the north coast of Cornwall.
To begin with, work mostly revolved around marine surveys and angling trips, but then Keith won a contract to provide the first boat involved with crew changes for a wind farm being created off the Swedish Coast, working out of Älvsborg. Seven months later, and already carving a strong reputation for himself in the commercial shipping world, it was off to Ireland working for General Electric on the Arklow Bank Windfarm.
Two more years in Sweden followed, based out of Malmo doing survey work, taking core samples from the sea bed before many thousands of tons of the Øresund Bridge, linking Sweden to Denmark, was stood on it. In 2004 Keith raised the bar, swapping the faithful ‘Josephine’ for the ‘Terramare 1’, a 24 metre 115 ton German built Landing Craft. Able to sleep twelve, and originally built to transport eighty tons of Tiger tank, this was a ship capable of new horizons, and Keith wasted no time in putting it to work. Delivering stores to the Scilly Isles, laying Fibre Optic cables from 80 ton drums in the Channel Islands and clearing the underwater diffuser of a potash mine 3 miles off Middlesbrough were examples of the sheer diversity of Keith’s activities.
A rather more unusual task was underwater surveying around the Maunsell Forts at Red Sands Tower. Maunsell Forts were originally anti aircraft gun towers erected at the mouth of the River Thames (and are now listed structures). During World War Two the Luftwaffa used the River Thames to guide them in to London. The Maunsell Forts were put in place
to dissuade them. After the war much of the munitions were simply dumped over the side. Now the site of another wind farm, it was Keith and his crew’s unenviable task to clear the area of potential explosives. “Anything we brought up we stuck in a bucket of water…” says Keith, “…just in case”.
But the job that really hit the headlines was the wreck of the Napoli in 2007. Beached at Branscombe on the South Devon coast, the Napoli made the news again and again, first as she was wrecked, and then as looters stole cargo washed up on to the beach. But of course much of it never got that far, and it was Keith and his crew’s job to find and recover the rest. “We were tasked with the area from the shoreline to quarter of a mile out over a four mile stretch of coast” Keith tells me. Items recovered included scores of BMW engines bolted four to a pallet, over 300 Land Rover tyres, even complete vehicles. “We had divers filling baskets and were craning out five or six tons at a time. We found three tons of Kinder eggs!”
Since then business has continued to boom. From assisting EON with underwater cable installation for the Robin Rigg Windfarm eight miles off the Cumbrian Coast to threading the main export core into the base of each structure at the London Array (the huge Windfarm development fifteen miles north east of Ramsgate); life afloat has never been busier.
With responsibility for ‘Terramore 1’ now handed on to the steady and capable hands of Keith’s son Ben, Keith and his wife Julie are finally able to take it easy. But after a lifetime afloat Keith isn’t giving up the sea just yet. “It’s strange, after being offshore most of my career you’d think I’d have had enough of it but I still absolutely love it. There is nothing in the world like it, and I miss watching the dawn break with a spectacular sunrise from the wheelhouse”. Keen to keep afloat, Keith and Julie visited the UK boat shows and put some serious work into finding the best boat on the market. “Of course the quality on the surface is important” says Keith, “but given my background I was looking much deeper, at everything from the strength of the handrails on the flybridge to the quality of the door hinges, and no matter what we looked at, we kept getting drawn back to Princess”.
At the end of last year a deal was done, and Keith and Julie took delivery of a Princess 42 from Richard Clarke at Princess Motor Yacht Sales in Plymouth.
But there was another aspect that impressed Keith just as much. “I’ve got to say that the quality of service we received was exceptional” says Keith. “I don’t believe that we could have been treated any better if we were buying a 35 Metre Princess. Mind you,” he says with a smile, “I wouldn’t mind finding out”.
But the 35 Metre will have to wait for a while because their new 42 clearly suits them perfectly. Kept in Cornwall (where else?) at Pendennis Marina in Falmouth, ‘Sowena’ provides the perfect bolt hole for Keith and Julie, and gives them access to the stunning Falmouth Harbour or out along the South Coast. But old habits die hard and Keith can’t resist putting the boat to work. “We’re going to run day charters with her” Keith tells me. “This area is steeped with history, playing a large part in Operation Overlord, the Normandy landing in World War Two for instance. We’re going to be giving people a tour of the area, as well as offering wedding parties and day’s out”.
It sounds like Keith’s new Princess is going to see plenty of use, and Keith is going to remain where he belongs – offshore, with salt water running through his veins.