Wind farms provide new opportunity for Caister fishermen

While high street banks gave a choppy start to their business careers, determined Richard Thurlow and Guy Gibson always remembered that Caister men never turn back.

The famous motto of the independent lifeboat station where they are both still coxswains kept up their spirits as bank manager after bank manager declined their requests for a business loan.

The fishermen's vision of buying a boat and entering the burgeoning industry of offshore wind farm support only became a reality when they were introduced to a local entrepreneur who confessed he had no experience of the marine industry at all – and suffered from sea sickness as soon as he took to the water.

However, Ken Turner, who founded and built up the discount QD empire before selling it in 2004, was not deterred by his lack of experience.

'Business principles remain the same in any setting and after doing some research the potential for the industry was obvious,' he said.

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And while banks had been put off by the pair's lack of any business track record, Mr Turner, nowadays kept busy as chairman of South Walsham Parish Council, saw their skills as seamen and knowledge of the North Sea as the perfect fit with his financial expertise.

He arranged finance to buy the �200,000 boat and the success story of Iceni Marine had begun.

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Less than three years later, heads turned on the quayside at Lowestoft as the fourth vessel in the company's fleet – the �1.2m Iceni Defiant – steered into harbour for the first time and moored up alongside her smaller sister vessels Iceni Spirit and Iceni Courage.

Following her launch at South Boats on the Isle of Wight, Iceni Defiant was the centrepiece of a display at St Katherine's Dock in London last week designed to show the investment potential of the rapidly developing industry.

Her inaugural stay in her home port was short-lived as the 17-metre catamaran was quickly set to work on her contract with Scottish and Southern Energy transporting crews and cargo to the Greater Gabbard windfarm being built off Lowestoft.

Mr Thurlow, 29, of Eastern Avenue, Caister, and Guy Gibson, 46, of Yarmouth Road, Caister, are proud to now be providing employment to 10 other seamen from a village badly hit by the demise of the fishing industry.

Mr Gibson, whose son Daniel, 19, has joined the company, said: 'We try to employ local people, taking them on as deckhands and training them up to be skippers.'

And his confidence that the industry 'will only go one way' is shared by business partner Mr Turner.

The company will be taking delivery of its fifth boat, a 14-metre fast-response vessel, next month and orders totalling more than �5m have already been placed with South Boats for two 24-metre craft which will arrive next year. Confessing it was 'scary to think about the sums', Mr Gibson said the larger boats would be capable of working further out to sea on the next generation of wind farms.

He said: 'We now have a good range of different-sized vessels, and we are already talking to developers about what their requirements will be for building the Crown Estate's third round of offshore windfarms, including the massive East Anglian Array off our coastline.'

Mr Turner said having talked to port operators it was looking likely that 'virtually every metre of quay space along the east coast will be taken up from 2015' with wind farm-connected activity.

He said: 'The industry's expansion is a certainty as offshore wind energy is the only way the government is going to hit its targets for renewable energy.'

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