The Welly Trail Geoff MEARS


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Geoff Mears 

Coxswain 1982 – 1984

Coxswain on the Lifeboats:

City of Birmingham 

Caroline Finch



Dock worker

Pleasure boat Skipper

Geoff Mears was born in Budleigh Salterton, where he worked as a fisherman in the bay with his father and brother Gerald, seasonally catching crab, lobster, herring and mackerel.  Gerald was the better fisherman, and Geoff the better boatman and coxswain.

When fishing in Budleigh came to an end, he began working in Exmouth Docks, continuing until the Docks closed.  

 The area where you are standing, which is now the Marina, used to be a very busy working dockyard.  Before the flats, there were warehouses, grain silos, cranes and a railway branch line for freight.  The work was hard, unloading boats by hand, and along with other dockers, Geoff relaxed in The Beach Pub where you can see his portrait.

As he has a strong connection with the sea, Geoff joined the crew of Exmouth Lifeboat, which was then anchored just outside the dock entrance, with the boarding boat inside the docks.  Through the years, he attended many callouts, leaving work, and losing money every time as the Docks didn’t pay for time out on shouts. 

When Geoff became Coxswain he had already been part of the crew for 11 years, 6 of them as deputy Coxswain.  The crew would never have hesitated, no matter what the weather, to follow Geoff to sea. 

On 23rd July 1983, Exmouth Lifeboat crew performed an unusual rescue without using the Lifeboat. Late in the evening, distress flares were spotted from Exe Sailing Club.  Crewman Reg Mogridge who was there at the time, set off in the Sailing Club rescue boat to investigate. Other crew members followed in the boarding boat.  They found a pleasure craft ‘Seacrest’ had run aground on a sandbank. Lifeboat crewman Simon Turl, was called to join them in an Exe River Taxi, on which he was an employee.  They rescued 51 passengers, many of them children, and 2 crew.  

After 13 years in Exmouth, ‘The City of Birmingham’ served in the RNLI Relief fleet, and in 1995, was sold for use as a Lifeboat in Uruguay. 

Our new boat, ‘Caroline Finch’ arrived on 17th July, 1983, during a thunderstorm.  She was welcomed by a flotilla of boats covered in bunting, with ‘The City of Birmingham’ leading the way. A crewman described the new boat as “like a racehorse after a carthorse”

Only 50 years earlier, the Exmouth Lifeboat was a rowing boat.  The RNLI fleet had modernised rapidly.  

The Duchess of Kent performed the official naming ceremony.  Crew and officials were concerned that the steep, slippery gangplank would be too dangerous for the Duchess, but she told them not to be silly, and took off her high heeled shoes, inspecting the boat barefoot. 

A model of ‘Caroline Finch’ is in Exmouth Museum as part of their display celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the RNLI. See for opening times

Geoff also skippered an angling boat for a private client, and had a license to skipper the ‘Devon Princess’ pleasure boat.   

With the closing of the docks, Geoff went to work as a docker in Avonmouth, and as all crew have to live and work within 10 minutes of their Station, he had to leave the Exmouth RNLI crew.  

Much of this information has come from Dave French, son of Geoff’s sister Sylvia.  When Geoff moved to Exmouth, his brother Gerald, who still lives in Budleigh Salterton, continued to work catching lobsters, making his own lobster pots as 4 past generations of the family had done.  


Dave carries on the family tradition of hand crafting Withy (Willow) lobster pots and can often be seen at local festivals demonstrating this rare skill.




Write the letter S from MEARS in space 12 of your answer box.


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