Thursday, 3 September 2015

Trawling in Sandwich Bay 1966


Pirate on the Goodwins

By David Chamberlain

The shipping forecast on Tuesday 19th November, 1991, told of increasing north-east winds. By midday, the light breeze had strengthened into a gale and throughout that night and Wednesday morning it still raged. It was during those turbulent early hours that the pirate radio ship, Ross Revenge, had snapped her anchor cable and drifted 15 miles where she went aground on the Goodwin Sands. Until their stranding, at 4:15 a.m., the six people aboard the ship were still asleep, but when they understood their predicament they were prompt to alert the coastguard through the VHF transmitter.

The Ross Revenge was a retired British registered trawler, previously the German fishing vessel, Freyr, which had plied her trade in the rough Icelandic waters. When the Ross Fisheries Group sold her she became a wreck recovery vessel, until she was purchased by Radio Caroline in 1983.

Ramsgate lifeboat promptly responded to the call, but they also ran aground in the shallow water and tumultuous seas that surrounded the Goodwins. For her coxswain it was one of the worst moments of his career and he was fortunate to get the craft off the sand bank.

As the Dover Harbour tug, Dextrous, skippered by Steve Parsons, raced to the scene, he realised the Radio Caroline’s caretaker crew were getting desperate. He could hear them, on the ship's radio, shouting for immediate assistance. By this time the R.A.F rescue helicopter from Manston had been scrambled and was above the wreck. They airlifted the frightened survivors from the bridge of the 30-year-old decommissioned trawler at 7:10 a.m. on that cold spume filled morning.

Meanwhile, Captain Parsons could not get his tug any closer than 900 feet from the casualty and, as he watched, the Ross Revenge bumped a further 600 yards across the sands.

The Dextrous stood by; however, it was not until the following day that the wind fell light enough for the tug to transport five men aboard the derelict vessel over the high tide.

All of that day on channel 11, of the V.H.F radio, the Dover Coastguards issued the following warning   “A wreck is stranded on the Goodwin Sands, 307 degrees from the East Goodwin Lightship, 1.8 miles.”

On Friday 22nd, November, the sea still remained calm and Steve Parsons was back on station in his tug Dextrous; along with her sister tug, Deft. At 11 a.m. on the 6.8 metre high water he backed his vessel up to the wreck, which was slightly across the tide with a build up of sand on her port side. After the towing cable had been secured to the pirate radio ship’s stern, Steve gunned the tug’s 2,850 horse power Ruston engines (which gave her a bollard towing power of 30 tons). Much to his amazement, the hulk slid off the sands with ease and was towed into slightly deeper water. It was determined that she was to be pulled through the Kellet Gut (a gap between the Goodwin Sands) and into Trinity Bay. By 12:30 p.m., both tugs had secured the Ross Revenge fore and aft and they steamed her into Dover Harbour where she was moored up to the Eastern Arm. Within an hour, Her Majesty's Customs had closed the ship up and her owners started to negotiate a suitable sum for salvage.

December of that year, found her moved to Dover’s Granville Dock and there was a rumour that she was up for sale at £20,000. It was then reported that the owners had paid a £10,000 deposit on her the following month. In March 1992, the station manager, Peter Moore, collected quotations from towing companies to have the vessel removed to Chatham Dockyard as a tourist attraction; and secure a legal license to transmit pop music.

Negotiations carried on for months, with the Department of Transport taking an interest in the condition of the ship. On Thursday morning, the 27th October, 1993, the ex-Grimsby trawler Ross Revenge was towed out of Dover Harbour and north towards the Thames estuary. The DoT had passed her seaworthy after a refit and her owners having paid the remaining balance on her salvage fee and harbour dues. At least the Goodwins had given this pirate a chance for redemption.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Unlucky lightship

The unlucky lightship.

David Chamberlain


Being afloat in and around the Goodwin Sands in thick fog is an unnerving feeling. The crews aboard the lightships not only had to keep a constant lookout, but also had to put up with the continuing blasts from their foghorn. During the early months of 1929 sea mists and fog had been a problem throughout the Downs and the Sands. Those aboard the Gull Light vessel were almost immune to the unvarying drone of the horn for hours on end.   

The Gull or LV38 had not long been on station after her refit. The wooden ship was comfortable and she rode the sea well in the winter gales; however, fog and calm seas brought another danger – that of collision. The lightships were placed in strategic positions around the Goodwins to warn shipping of the immediate danger. With radar not yet invented, most ships would reduce speed and proceed with caution, or even anchor-up until the fog lifted.

In the early hours of March 18th 1929 the two men on watch, of the Gull light vessel, desperately tried to peer through the fog as they heard the deep throb of a ship’s engine approaching. The 7,844 ton passenger ship City of York was progressing through the Gull Stream, the inshore route inside the Goodwin Sands. Unbeknown to them they were on a collision course with the Gull light vessel.

Even at slow speed the towering bows of the liner sliced a large hole through the hull of the light vessel amidships. The rest of the four crew and master were awoken by the sound of splintering wood and the Gull’s lantern crashing down on her deck. The impact of the collision nearly put the Gull onto her beam ends as she bounced of the City of York’s bows and started to sink. The lightships six crew were picked up by the City of York, which had stopped on impact. The Gull’s master could not be found.

Within weeks, Trinity House had arranged for the light vessel to be lifted from the seabed. It was then, when the divers were fitting lifting strops to the Gull that they found the master, Captain Williams. His body was in a standing position, jammed in between his cabin furniture. It was surmised that he was trapped as his vessel started to sink before he could leave his cabin. 

After the Gull was salvaged and repaired she was put on duty as the Brake light vessel, and stationed a mile opposite Sandown Castle guarding the Brake Sands. Word had it that she was haunted and unlucky - and on a stormy night in 1940 she almost sank again, when an Italian ship collided with her.

Further repairs and a refit by Trinity House made her seaworthy once more and LV 38 was moored in the mouth of the Thames as the Mouse light vessel. Following a German air attack in 1941, she was laid up for the remainder of the war. The lightship was then purchased in 1947 by Thurrock Yacht Club to be used as their club house until 1970.

Unfortunately, she was left to disintegrate and become vandalised.  All that remains of the 152 year old vessel now, is part of her rotting hull on the mud at Grays on the Thames. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

South Goodwin disaster

South Goodwin disaster

By David Chamberlain

The lightships crews were normally made up of ex-Merchant Navy men, who had served on deep sea voyages, along with ex-North Sea and Arctic fishermen.  These men were used to being afloat for long periods of time without the comforts of home. They were a breed of men who could live in confined quarters and mix with their compatriots without falling out. Their only differences were the brand of tobacco they used in their pipes and cigarettes.
The six crew and Master of the South Goodwin Light vessel, LV 90, were looking forward to Christmas on that bleak night of 27th November, 1954. Their conversation in the cramped quarters of the lightship would have been of the size of the turkey that the townsfolk of Deal would donate. Just before every Christmas, a local beach boat would pull alongside the LV 90 laden with gifts and food; to make the crews life more bearable over the festive season. If the weather was too rough for the small Deal boats to get afloat, then the Walmer Lifeboat would tender the service.
There was an extra person on board the lightship that night. Ronald Murton, a soft spoken scientist for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. His job was to count and identify the migrating birds that rested on the superstructure of the light vessel. His concern was the weather forecast that the skipper of LV 90 had informed him and the crew to expect. He had been notified, via the radio telephone, of south-west winds increasing to storm force.
Throughout the night the lightship pitched and tossed as the wind screamed; Waves hitting the vessel, showering volumes’ of seawater over the bow and out through the scuppers along the deck. Unnerved and unable to sleep, Murton spent the night in the warmth of the ships galley, with an old army greatcoat over his pyjamas. The crew had tried to reassure him that the lightship’s four ton mushroom anchor would hold in any seas. 
However, it would not be the anchor that dragged that night, but one of the links in its chain that napped under the strain. The ‘heel and toe’ motion of the tethered ship was lost as she was swept across the Goodwin Sands on the tide and wind. The captain and crew were powerless to do anything as LV 90 finally went aground and rolled over on her beam ends.
Over six miles distance to seaward, the crew on watch of the East Goodwin light vessel noticed the absence of the 6000,000 candlepower beacon, flashing twice every thirty seconds, from their sister ship LV 90.  When they did not get any response from her on the radio – they alerted Trinity House and the coastguards. 
As dawn reluctantly broke, the lifeboats from Dover, Deal and Ramsgate viewed the remains of the South Goodwin lightship on the Sands. As the lifeboats could not get any closer than 700 yards to the hulk, the crews could not see any life onboard; and the sandbank had already started to consume her. Miraculously, a survivor was found, clinging to the lightship’s lattice tower. Ronald Murton was barely alive and was winched to safety by a helicopter, still in his greatcoat and pyjamas. 


Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Storm


By David Chamberlain

On the night and early hours of 26th/27th of November, 1703 a storm raced up-Channel - which increased to hurricane force winds. In the Downs the many ships that were anchored suffered from its after effects. Some were sunk, some were cast away from their moorings and many were badly damaged. The loss of life was estimated at over a thousand men.

Daniel Defoe had published, the following year, a book about the storm, however, he did not admit to being the author. His account of the loss of the ships and men-of-war on the Goodwins Sands was pure fiction. The year after publication, the mayor and jurats (councillors) of Deal took umbrage when they read the story. It was highly defamatory to the conduct of the Deal boatmen and the inhabitants of the town. Defoe had implied that they would not launch their boats to save lives on the morning after the storm; and were only interested in the plunder that could be gained from it. He also stated that the Mayor, Thomas Powell, commandeered customs boats to save two-hundred men who could be seen stranded on the Goodwin Sands.

Although this story is well known and has been retold for over 300 years, research has proved that it was all lies and libel.

The height of the storm occurred around 5 a.m. with the wind over 100 miles an hour. With low tide an hour later and daylight not occurring till after 7 a.m. it would have been impossible to see any people on the Goodwins. Also the surf hitting the sandbank would have obscured the Sands themselves. In actual fact, those sailors who needed saving could be seen clinging to the remains of their ships. The storm was still raging when Thomas Warren, who was in charge of the Admiralty Yard and future mayor of Deal, stated that it was impossible to launch any boats from the beach owing to the surf along shore. Even the captain of the largest ship that had ridden out the hurricane force winds, a three decked, second rate Prince George, wrote in his log that he could only send some of his longboats out in the afternoon – and it was still too rough to get near the stricken vessels before darkness. However, the following day, when the weather had abated some, Warren sent some Deal boats out to rescue 70 survivors from the half submerged wreck of the warship Stirling Castle. Therefore, it can be discounted that Deal boats were afloat the day before, plundering the wrecks.

The ex-mayor, Thomas Powell, must have been embarrassed by the story of him taking the custom boats by force and paying boatmen to take them afloat. So much so, that the mayor and councillors, which included Warren and Powell, wanted to sue the unknown author (Defoe) for this infamous libel. They instructed the town clerk to draw up a summons to be served on the author of the book for libel.

Daniel Defoe was a bankrupt and it could be surmised that when the Deal Council realised this, they knew it would be a waste of time pursuing the matter further. Therefore, the story/myth survived to be told and written about for hundreds of years as the truth; although as a story it makes exiting reading … as did most of Defoe’s books.


Saturday, 30 August 2014


By David Chamberlain
At the beginning of the 20th century, submarines were being developed for the British Navy. Although many in the Admiralty felt that these vessels were not a gentleman’s way of fighting sea warfare, they soon became accepted … with some reservations. In 1902, A Class type submarines were followed, two years later, by the slightly larger B Class at the cost £47,000 per vessel. The 143 feet C Class submarines were in commission by 1906 and were crewed by up to 16 officers and ratings.
Richard Ivor Pulleyne was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1911 and a year later was second in command of the submarine B2. The crew of these new craft were enthusiast and the small fleet of B and C Class submarines were on constant manoeuvres throughout the English Channel. They practiced changing over from the crafts surface petrol engines to the electric motors when submerged. On the 4th October, 1912, Puleyne, with his captain, Percy O’Brian, and their crew of 13 were with a flotilla of other B and C submarines out from Dover.  They had been on duty in the Downs and had caused some concern from the masters of steam ships; as some near misses had occurred with the low profile craft.
The German ss Amerika was an Atlantic liner of 22,621 tons, on voyage to America with a full complement of emigrants and other class passengers. As she passed the South Goodwin lightvessel and turned towards Dover to pick up mail and any last company orders; her lookouts failed to see the small submarine that had just surfaced in the choppy sea on her bow. Hardly anyone noticed or felt the collision, as Amerka hit the B2 amidships.
Lieutenant Richard Pulleyne had only just lifted up the coning tower hatch to breathe in the cold October air and attain the B2’s position. His vessel lurched on her beam ends as she scraped alongside the hull of the liner. The glancing blow of the large passenger ship had ripped a six foot hole in the submarine where the seawater flowed in uninterrupted. Below deck, the B2 was in chaos with the seamen struggling to comprehend the situation and save themselves. Immediately, the doomed craft sank to the seabed in 16 fathoms (96 feet) with 2nd Lieutenant Pulleyne huddled at the bottom of the coning tower ladder. The cries of the crew were soon stifled as the last bit of air was forced out of the submarine and Pulleyne was blown out of the coning tower hatch towards the surface.    
 Half an hour on, and over a mile away from the sinking, the sister submarine B16 found Pulleyne - barely clinging onto life. He was the only survivor of the tragedy.
Two days later, destroyers from the 6th Flotilla found the remains of the B2, three miles off the South Foreland. With the submarine almost cut in half and the dead naval personnel inside, it was deemed to leave the sunken vessel on the seabed and hold a burial service above the wreck as respect for the dead.
The First World War saw twenty-nine year old Pulleyne in command of his own submarine, the E34, which was lost with all hands just before the cessation of the conflict on the 20th July, 1918.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Deal Coast Guard Rescue

Deal coast guard rescue

By David Chamberlain

Spending Christmas in the Downs, with a north easterly blow, was not everybody’s idea of how to spend the festive season of 1913.  The three mast schooner, Robert Morris, had been anchored-up opposite Deal Castle for nine days; and had been awaiting a shift in the wind direction to continue her voyage to the Port of London with a cargo of copperas. On New Year’s Eve, the wind increased to a gale and her master, and owner, was finding the vessel straining against her two anchors. 
Captain Robert Morris had named his ship after himself and had full confidence in her seaworthiness. However, as the flood took hold against the wind on the spring tide, the seas became heavier.  At 2am her port anchor chain parted and with her starboard anchor not holding she drove down tide, to the north, with the wind pushing her shoreward.
Deal coast guards immediately saw the stricken ship’s flare and informed the crew of the north Deal lifeboat. Coxswain Adams was quick to respond. This was to be the first ‘shout’ that they had had in 7 months. It was a difficult launch in the rolling surf and the boat was swamped with water by two consecutive waves. The men struggled with the haul-off-warp and physically pulled the lifeboat through the surf and into deeper water.
By this time it had started snowing, turning into a blizzard as the Robert Morris was stranded on the high tide opposite Sandown Castle.  As hard as the lifeboat tried to assist in saving the ship’s crew, Adams did not have enough water under the Charles Dibden’s keel to manoeuvre his vessel in the teeth of the north east gale.   
The coast guards had been monitoring the situation, and as the Robert Morris grounded, her bowsprit almost touched the remains of the old Sandown Castle. Coast guard John Wood rushed into the surf attached to a safety rope carrying his heaving cane (a stick with a weighted head attached to a life line). Dressed in only his uniform, the coldness numbed him as he threw the cane. His aim was accurate, and the schooners crew grabbed and secured the line. The first two crewmen had waited for a temporary lull in the waves and were successfully helped ashore. The flare that was burning on the ship and illuminating the action extinguished and cast the area into darkness. It was also the moment that the ship’s cook misjudged his jump and fell backwards into the raging surf, disappearing under the water.  Coastguard Wood plunged below the waves and obtained a hold on the cook’s arm, only to find the man panicked and put a strangle hold on him.
In the pitch black turmoil, the awaiting coastguards, unaware to what had happened, hauled on the rope attached to their comrade. The ship’s cook was dragged out of the wave’s barely conscious and Wood being in a state of exhaustion and hyperthermia. The coastguards then fired a rocket over the ship and hauled the captain and mate ashore in a breeches buoy.

Within hours Wood had recovered and returned to the hulk, which was now high and dry on the receding tide, and went aboard, armed, to stop any looting. In the light of day, locals came to look at the spectacle and watch as the tug, Lady Vita, pull the Robert Morris off the beach, stern first, and towed her to the safety of the Dover Harbour.