The unpredictable event that led to a tourism boom
Released: Friday, 19 January 2018
Today marks 10 years since cargo ship Ice Prince hit difficulty off the south coast and lost 2,000 tons of cut timber planks to the sea.
Initial reports expected the load to hit Dorset beaches but, as tides turned, the wood mountain drifted towards Worthing's coastline.
Worthing Borough Council own the full eight mile stretch of coast down to the low tide line so all hands were on deck to find a solution to this rather bizarre problem.
The then Worthing Mayor, Councillor Heather Mercer speaks fondly of her memories of the days that followed - from TV appearances and the 'impressive' work of volunteers to the unexpected global interest in the town during the time.
As police warnings were issued to deter keen DIYers from taking the wood, council leaders made the decision to erect a fence along the entire stretch of the seafront. How many people made the joke about using the wood to make the fencing? “Too too many”, says Cllr Mercer.
Speaking about not only the staggering volume of wood which 'towered' over her head, Cllr Mercer recalls seeing some interesting sights early on:
“At the beginning there were people on bikes with about 10 planks under their arm pedalling urgently away. I also remember seeing one elderly lady with a trolley bag walking along with four planks sticking out the top.”
International interest in the event soon followed.
An early wake up call to appear on BBC Breakfast on the morning the wave of wood landed was the first in a series of interviews. This included visits from Japanese, Russian and Chinese TV crews who spoke to the Mayor on a wet windy pier to a backdrop of the wood littered beach.
“It was very good for tourism as so many people came down to see the mountain of wood. Places like the Denton Lounge did a roaring trade as you could sit there in the warm, sipping your coffee and 'ooh' and 'arr' at the wood out of the wind and rain.”
The media exposure led Cllr Mercer to rekindle a few old connections too.
“I kept getting all these emails from long lost school friends who had seen me on the TV so it was quite an interesting unexpected reaction.”
Eventually, the decision was made to chip the timber. It was made a challenging task as the wet wood would block the chipping machine.
Once the whole beach was cleared, to thank and praise volunteers, coastguard, police and the council-run beach office for their hard work Cllr Mercer held a buffet reception in the Mayor's Parlour.
She couldn't resist bringing in a platter of freshly fried potatoes and asked: “Anyone for chips?”.
Photo: Cllr Heather Mercer looking at the wood on the beach from Worthing Pier
Photos: Wood piled on the beach next to Worthing Pier
Photos: by kind permission of the Worthing Herald
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