THE family of Exmouth skipper and former RNLI crewman Geoff Ingram have paid tribute to a "loving, caring, irreplaceable" man and expressed their sincere gratitude to all those who have offered "overwhelming" support.
Since Geoff's boat the Sarah Jayne sunk several miles off Brixham on September 11, more than £15,000 has been raised by the community, led by the fishing fraternity, to support his wife Sarah and the couple's children, Vicky, 20, and Tom, 17, known as Geofferson after his dad, and the two crew members.
It was Geoff's friends and fellow fishermen who went out to the wreck just over a week after the incident, after the Maritime Accident Investigation Branch lifted the cordon from around the wreck site, and retrieved his body.
Sarah said they had received hundreds of cards and letters of support as well as cakes and meals left at their doorstep. She said words could not express their gratitude for all the support they have received.
"The support and kindness we've received has been humbling, absolutely overwhelming," she said. "It's really helped us cope, knowing there are people who care."
More than 700 people filled the Holy Trinity Church for Geoff's funeral on Monday, October 1.
"Geoff would have been looking down, probably thinking there was a lot of fuss, but he would have loved it," Sarah continued.
A reception was held at the Beach Hotel after the funeral, a venue where Geoff once celebrated his 18th birthday party, met Sarah, and where they held their wedding reception and his 40th birthday party.
Events were also held at the Dock Side Café and the Point Bar and Grill organised by café owner Viv Ewings and Geoff's best friend Burt Thomas, with 51 lanterns let off from the docks in the evening.
Sarah said the family had received letters of support from friends from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and America.
She said she would like to thank everyone who has shown her and the family support but particular thanks to Mr Thomas, Mrs Ewings, Phil and Louise Higgins who organised the fundraising event in the Manor Gardens which raised more than £7,000 as well as the fishermen and divers who went to the seabed to bring Geoff back to them.
Sarah described the family's wait for his body to be found as "agonising".
"We knew he was down in the boat," she said. "We think he was waiting for his friends to come and get him. Geoff's body came to the surface before the divers and he floated towards the boat.
"We owe them everything, without them we wouldn't have Geoff. There is nothing we can say to thank them enough. It meant everything to us to have him back. We knew he wouldn't have wanted to stay down there. We would have done anything to get him back even if it meant rising the boat.
"Vicky and Tom helped out at the fundraising event which was brilliant, it really gave them something to remember.
"It's hard to put into words the gratitude we feel."
Vicky and Tom described their dad as "happy, unique, selfless and irreplaceable".
Geoff and Sarah met at the Beach Hotel on New Year's Eve 26 years ago and were married for 21 years. Geoff grew up in Topsham, went to Bramdean School and then Hele's School. He developed his love of the sea through spending time at his grandfather's chalet on Shelly Beach where he learnt to sail with the Exe Sailing Club going on to sail at competition level and winning several awards.
He joined Exmouth RNLI aged 17 and remained a volunteer crew member for 18 years and alongside his fellow crew members saved 98 lives at sea. In 1985 Geoff received a bravery award for jumping from the lifeboat and pulling two girls from the water.
At 16, Geoff went out on a Brixham fishing trawler the Pegasis Rex and it wasn't long before he got his first job working for Terry Rowsel on the Zena, the Osprey and then the Neils Risarga, all skippered by Tony Wreford who became a cherished mentor to Geoff.
Geoff went on to skipper the Neils which he bought in 1985. He owned the Sarah Jayne for 12 years, more recently crewed by Matt Bull and Scott Chamberlain, who said Geoff saved their lives on the day it sank by going back into the wheel room to make the mayday call.
He was also interested in carp fishing and motocross but was first and foremost a "family man".
"Fishing was all he wanted to do," added Sarah. "He used to say you can't put a price on life, so there was two of everything on the boat and that's why he spent so much money on it.
"Geoff was a real family man, he was considerate, honest, loving. He was just Geoff."