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People who live by the sea know how dangerous it can be. It may look calm and peaceful from on shore, but storms can come out of nowhere. Hundreds of ships have been wrecked on the rocks here. Brixham men always have known the dangers but even they were taken by surprise by the terrible storm that blew up on the night of January 10th, 1866. The fishing boats only had sails then and could not get back into harbour because gale force winds and the high waves were against them. To make things worse, the beacon on the breakwater was swept away, and in the black darkness they did not know where they were.

According to local legend, their wives brought everything they could carry, including furniture and bedding, to make a big bonfire on the quayside to guide their men home - if their husbands and sons perished, there was no future for the rest of the family...

Fifty vessels perished and more than one hundred lives were lost in the storm; when dawn broke the wreckage stretched for nearly three miles up the coast. Hearing of this tragedy, the citizens of Exeter gave money to set up what became the RNLI's Torbay lifeboat, which has rescued hundreds of people. You can visit the boathouse and look at all the memorials to the brave deeds; on special occasions you can go on board, see how survivors are cared for, and wonder at all the high-tech equipment.
The RNLI is the charity that provides a 24-hour lifesaving service around the UK and Republic of Ireland. Click here to visit their website.