Hastings Pier, pier of the people, owned by the local populace and a brilliant example of design. I've walked on it, drunk coffee on it and stared out at the sea from it. I love it, that's not an overstatement, many hours of my life have been spent on it. On the boards, I never once thought about what is going on underneath. Not until I met Francesca who is one of the maintenance team. I hadn't thought about the work that regularly needs to be done underneath the decking, the important work that keeps the pier upright. Take a look under the pier and you will start to understand the other world.
What happens to the detritus that is in the water? As you can see from the picture, all sorts of rubbish is sent backwards and forward because of the movement of the tides. The waves cause the the various pieces of net and rope to wind themselves around the structure, causing stress to the metal. Most of today's rope and netting is plastic which means it doesn't wear away. It will one day, but the fact is that all this rubbish has to be cut or burnt off and it is a complicated and awkward environment to work in - it's the sea. Which is tidal, so either all the work has to coincide with the tide being out or the maintenance team has to resort to other methods.
First a couple more shots of the sort of rubbish that binds itself around the pier supports. Some are eerily beautiful, some a scary jumble of tangles.
It's so eerie under the pier, especially early in the morning.
Some of the rubbish is old rope and it would eventually rot but the plastic is there to stay until it's removed.
So standing and cutting at it at low tide is one option.
or kayaking in is another way. Which helps me understand that this sort of maintenance is not something to be undertaken lightly. First the weather, then the sea and the variety of skills that are required. In order to get to the supports you either have to take to the water or go over the side.
The maintenance team have to learn these skills and then be tested on them. Even if you are qualified, anything to do with the sea is not predictable. Swell, cross currents, wind, tide, none of these are easy to negotiate. Not a job for the average person. The people working on this job must understand the risks.
And if you can't get at the supports from underneath then the only other way is over the top and down the side. Francesca let me know when the crew would be going down to do some maintenance on one of the bolts. The following photos are a further example of the maintenance team's skill.
Francesca and the climbing trainer who was on the job that day - a cold February morning.
Francesca over the side and ready to climb down. You can see how awkward and difficult this is. Safety is paramount as an unexpected dip in the sea at these temperatures would be very unwelcome - if not dangerous.
Going down to get to the job. The sea was rolling in that day. The bolt that needed work on was low down close to that churning sea.
And finally Francesca is where she needs to be. She and Peter get on with the job.
So, that's a couple of days in the life of the maintenance team on the pier. Not your average 9 - 5pm, and not many chances for coffee breaks when you're hanging on to a support just above the sea. I'm more grateful now for the team who collectively does the important work to maintain the structure of the pier. Just people doing their job out of sight of the public doing what needs to be done to ensure the safety of us, the public.
Thanks for reading, and spare a thought for the invisible workers, the ones who do what we cannot.
PS. I hope to revisit in the summer when it's sunny and warm, in a few months time.