Caister man at the helm of an energy industry boom in Norfolk and Suffolk
A lifeboatman is hoping his new business venture will prove to be at the helm of a growing offshore wind farm industry.
As well as being an active member of the Caister Lifeboat crew, Richard Thurlow, 28, is now the proud owner of a fleet of catamarans.
The Iceini Spirit, currently moored in Lowestoft's Hamilton Docks, began transporting workers to winds farms off the coast of East Anglia in March last year.
Twelve months on and demand is so high that Mr Thurlow and business parnter Guy Gibson have ordered two more ships - the 15m Iceini Courage will be launched at the end of this month and the 18m Iceni Valour (a working title only) will soon follow.
Mr Thurlow has already secured a contact with Seimens, the Uk's largest provider of wind turbines and offshore grid connections. He believes the region is at the forefront of a wind energy 'boom'.
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He said: 'No one knew what a wind farm was 10 years ago. Now we're going out every day, weather permitting. It's a huge opportunity and I think it's only going to get bigger.
'There are knock-on effects for the local economy that are sometimes overlooked; the guys working on the grids are using local business, not only us, but the pubs, the restaurants, right down to buying their paper from a local shop.
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'The whole region can benefit.'
Iceni Marine Services employs six members of permanent staff, including two deckhands and two skippers. The company will also take on temporary staff during busy periods.
For Mr Thurlow, who never imagined he would be running a business servicing off-shore wind farms when he became a lifeboatman a decade ago, it is 'an exciting time' to live and work on a coast so closely linked the the expansion of the renewable energy sector.
'We started with a smaller fibreglass boat and three months later we launched Iceni Spirit,' he said.
'We'd looked at the way the industry was going and decided to make an investment.'
As well as offering crew transfer vessels, the Iceni fleet can provide assistance for surveys, dives or act as standby safety boats. Catamarans are the preferred vessel as they provide a smoother, more stable ride for the staff serving the grids.