Saturday, 22 August 2009


The Romans called it Lomea and Infera Insula (Low Island). Legend has it that the Earl of Godwin inherited land on it until the great sea floods of 1014 or 1099 swept everything away. Of the legend, only the floods can be verified; which were possibly caused by a tsunami after an earthquake – or a strong tidal surge that was the consequence of a storm in the North Sea. Either way, the Goodwin Sands has not only been a magnet to ships as a ‘shippe swalower’, but also to people who have a strange desire to visit.

The Goodwin Sands are located off the coast of Ramsgate, Deal and St Margaret’s Bay. The shallowest part of the ten mile sandbank begins its northern most point five nautical miles out from Ramsgate and ends a mere three miles from shore. Over the realm of time the Goodwin Sands has probably accounted for at least 2000 shipwrecks and countless lives. Ghost stories surround the sands with tales of sightings of spectral vessels being seen crashing into the surf and mysteriously disappearing when their rescuers arrive.

Regardless of all the myths, the Goodwins are a prominent feature off the Kent coast. In the past, men have tried to make use of the treacherous sandbank; as a safe haven for shipwrecked mariners and also as a warning to vessels that stray too close. Admiral Bullock erected a safety beacon upon them in 1840, in the form of a forty-foot mast with a platform or gallery construction that would hold 30 to 40 mariners. This ‘Refuge Beacon’ lasted for four years until a careless Dutch vessel ran it down. Eventually the lightships that surrounded the Goodwins marked the dangers, and their crews kept an eye out for mishaps. Incredulously, in 2003, there was a commissioned report to turn the Goodwin Sands into a 24-hour passenger and freight airport, along with two runways!

On the northern area of the Goodwins, at low water, the sand lies exposed. All around the sandbank are ‘swillies’ or deep holes that remain filled with seawater. Elsewhere gullies and mini sand dunes are formed which will start to crumble beneath your feet; and when you try to paddle in the ‘fox-holes’ or the deep puddles… it is then that you feel the suction of quick sand. Nevertheless, this situation gives little fear to the supposed colony of 350 seals, however, in the past it has given cause for much concern and grievance to humans.

Even the famed Deal boatmen or ‘hovelers’ have also been known to misjudge the conditions on the Goodwins. The large galley-punt Wanderer visited the wreck of the sailing ship Frederick Carl, which had run aground on the sandbank on the last day of October 1885. The Wanderer’s two man crew’s intention was to salvage some of the cargo. With an increasing north-east wind, the Sands started to cover as the ‘Young Flood Tide’ swept over the banks. As the sand shivered beneath their feet the two boatmen tried in vain to make it back to their own craft. When the sea encroached up to their waists, the men realised their luck was against them – and waded back to the abandoned hulk of the Frederick Carl. After the lifeboat Mary Somerville arrived, they only managed to save one of the Deal men. The other was found the following day, dead, tangled in the wrecks rigging.

The desire to do the unusual has always held a fascination for some, and to visit the Goodwin Sands as a fun-day out is no exception. They have been visited by thousands over the years for various reasons, and still attract the curious. It is known that the Sands hold vast amounts of treasure, both archaeological as well as financial. In recent years a Dutch East Indiaman called the Rooswijk was found by a diver, and a supposed million pound cargo of silver coins and bullion have been recovered.

A strange tale was told in the late 1800s that the Deal lugger Tiger was chartered for a week by London visitors – and financed by a Mr Morgan. Their quest was to dig for buried treasure on the Goodwins. It was said that the Tiger was put ashore on the Sands at low water and with the aid of a large cylinder the party dug a shaft within it. The men soon encountered a skeleton, and then a wreck. Further burrowing in the hulk’s timbers found the holds as ‘dry as an empty bottle’. However, at the end of the week a dozen chests of treasure were loaded onto the lugger and the expedition was hailed as a success. This is how it was told in Herbert Russell’s novel ‘The Longshoremen’.

What was true, is that the Tiger was the largest lugger on Deal beach and four of her crew lost their lives in a mysterious escapade on the Goodwins. Whilst the Tiger’s crew, in a smaller beach boat, attempted to salvage a cargo of coal from a wreck high and dry on the sandbank, they found their own craft ‘swaddled’ on the Sands as the tide made. The weight of the coal had sunk the Deal boat into the sand and she would not lift with the tide. They abandoned her and made for higher ground as the water rose. They were last seen by a passing sailing barge whose skipper thought that the men who were running about and waving their arms were ‘Deal boatmen, just mucking about’.

Annual cricket matches on the Goodwin Sands is a myth. The first recorded game was in the summer of 1813, which caused criticism from the public as a blasphemy against all those unfortunate victims of the rapacious Sands. Although it has been played spasmodically ever since and The London Illustrated News of 1854 recorded an event of that year with a fine lithograph. During 1985, this author assisted in ferrying players and spectators from the Kent team for a fundraising match on top of the Goodwins. Thirteen Deal boats took out around a hundred people on a calm and sunny afternoon. Since that event, cricket, amongst other games, have only been played by a few whilst on organised trips.

Although the large hovercrafts no longer are available to take the hundreds of sightseers out to the sandbank, the Goodwin Sands Potholers Club has found another way. This club is a charity, which raises money for young people, and prearranged a trip to the Sands on 19 August 2009. The use of a small helicopter was organised and the fare paying passengers were ferried out, and back, on the hottest day of the year, and enjoyed the evening’s low tide ramble on the Sands.

In July 2006, the BBC film crew who were making the well known television programme ‘Coast’ thought it would be a good idea to feature a cricket match being played upon the Sands. As the tide started to make the skipper of the craft who took them out, urged that they should evacuate with haste. The TV crew pleaded for another ten minutes to finish the take. That was all it took – the tide changed against a north-east wind and the surf built up and swamped the vessel and its outboard engines. Several thousand pounds of film cameras were washing about in the bilge of the disabled boat and the occupants were at risk of being stranded. It took two lifeboats from Ramsgate and Walmer, plus the rescue helicopter, to avert a tragedy.
Coastguard sector manager Andy Roberts summed up the situation by stating:

‘The Sands can appear safe but, if landing, very careful consideration must be given to tides, the weather forecast and the prevailing conditions. The Goodwin Sands should be treated with the utmost respect by visitors’

This advice, unfortunately, has not always been observed by many – much to their misfortune – and sometimes this endeavour has led to grief.

Monday, 9 March 2009

A match angler's psychology

Just what makes a match angler tick? Simple, it’s all in the mind. This is a light-hearted synopsis into our sport and all of the emotions that make it enjoyable.

It is obvious that we all have a passion for angling; however, anticipation plays a great part in the angler’s psyche. It has been known for some anglers not to be able to sleep the night before a session as their excitement grows. In some cases the anticipation is almost fifty percent of the pleasure.

Along with the anticipation is the preparation. Days prior to the competition will be spent on contemplation where to gather bait, checking tackle and finding out information on what has been caught (an excuse to visit the tackle shop or the web sites). New methods and easy ways of catching are always in the forefront of our mind. Will that new rod and reel get you those extra yards to where the main shoals of fish are? Will the new rig give you the edge on your fellow competitors – you become exited and impatient to try it out? Nevertheless, under normal conditions it will be the bait and how it is presented that will be more successful – and not the number or colour of the beads that festoon your rigs. However, if that makes you confident then so be it, more on that subject later.

At the signing in before the comp there is normally an atmosphere of camaraderie (or bonding) and sussing out the opposition. As you make the first cast you have that feeling of confidence that this will be your comp – the fish are lining-up to jump on your hook. Having a negative attitude normally only produces negative results; therefore confidence is the most important aspect of winning.

Now it is only halfway through the match and you know that the angler at the next peg is beating you – it is then when anxiety and paranoia starts to creep in. And in the last half hour if the situation has not changed – then panic rears its ugly head.

As the weigh-in commences you are curious to know what the other anglers have caught. This knowledge will either bring you disappointment or elation. If you have won, then the feeling of smugness fills your head and you know that your competitive spirit has paid off and you have beaten the others (sort of being top dog for five minutes – or as the younger members would say ‘a major buzz’). As you collect the pool monies you get that sense of pre-eminence (lets face it, unless you win the big one, your winnings normally only cover bait, entrance fees and transport, therefore you’ve got to get something out of it – even if it is only in the mind).

However, if you lose then outwardly you become the good loser and congratulate the winners. Inwardly it is the bad losers who have that emotion of disenchantment and will think and consider where they went wrong. They will try to improve on the next comp and eventually become winners.

When you pack-up and go home, it is then that the whole session becomes an anti-climax in your mind. Mentally you have joined up the full circle of all the angling emotions – and then start to begin another one as you anticipate and plan the next competition.

So now Dr CELOCANT Freud will just recount some of the emotions that a match angler will come across:
Negative attitude

There you have it! it’s all in the mind. Ah, I hear you say, what about the physical side of angling like casting. Well, if you don’t think what you’re doing when you go through those actions – then look out! Thankfully we all have slightly more brain matter than the fish – but not always. Consider, if a salmon can migrate from a river in Scotland, go on a sabbatical for a few years, thousands of miles away, and then find their way back to the same river – underwater – then they’ve got more knowledge than Dr CELOCANT Freud.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Local Urban Myths

How many times do anglers blame the lack of fish on other reasons? These whinges become quasi facts and are passed on for ever. In this post I hope to address some of these urban myths – and yet again the CELOCANT will put his head above the parapet, so feel free to shoot at it.

Myth: Angling used to be better before the war.
Fact: Looking back at the club competition results there is no proof that the catches were better then, than they are now. Catches have improved with added species such as thornback ray and bass caught in vast amounts.

Myth: We used to catch bigger fish in the old days.
Fact: In the past, the record cod was a mere 32lb and this weight was only bettered in the late 60s and early 70s. The British Record Fish list has been improved on since the ‘good old days’ owing to modern technology and better angling skills and equipment.

Myth: We used to catch plenty of plaice before the beam trawlers destroyed the mussel beds.
Fact: The mussel beds that plaice feed upon are small seed mussels. These mussels are migratory. Therefore, they will not be in the same place year in year out. As for beam trawlers – they have to keep to limits of at least 6 miles from shore. Plaice have been a targeted fish for many years – especially by the Dutch – and they are on strict quotas. The reason why we don’t catch many is simply because most of them have been already caught.

Myth: Beam trawlers work close in shore, because I’ve seen them.
Fact: Beamers have to work from a 6 mile limit and when caught just inside this limit they are heavily fined. The vessels most anglers see are the ones on passage to and from their fishing grounds. Occasionally one will come close inshore and can be seen with their outriggers outstretched – the reason is to shelter from bad weather and with the outriggers in this position it stabilises the boat, and brings the masts centre of gravity lower.

Myth: Trawlers with no lights come close in and trawl along the shore line because I’ve heard them.
Facts: When has shore fishing been better than going out in a boat? Trawlermen would not waste their time or diesel trying to catch what we do – there’s much more fish offshore. Also along this coast, being so near to the continent, HM customs would investigate any such goings on. The possible sighting of commercials would more than likely be gill netters – and if they are that close in then they would be liable for chunks of 6oz lead being propelled at them with force. Sound travels for miles over water and boat engine noises, which could be 2 miles out to sea, sound as if they are on shore.

Myth: The French and Spanish trawlers have caught all the fish.
Facts: Again the foreign vessels have to stick to their own territorial waters and would be stupid to risk a heavy fine for the meagre catches off Deal. I have never seen a French boat working inside the limits in my forty plus years of being afloat, and I have never seen a Spanish trawler, apart from in Spain. It is a myth that the French have no fish in their own waters. A few years back I was invited on a French gill netter from Calais and they hauled in two ton of prime cod and the occasional bass up to 10lb. At the time, I was concerned that the boat would become unstable and capsize – and this was only about a mile off Calais beach. Later the French fisherman told me of his fears that the English boats would plunder their stocks. French cuisine demands some very small fish to make bouillabaisse, however, the rest of the French fish market displays better size and quality than England. The only Spanish boats that fish around our coast are the ones that have bought the licences from the British fishermen. Isn’t it strange that the foreigners never sell their licences to the British fishermen!

Myth: The sea is not cold enough for the cod.
Fact: When cold snaps affect sudden drops in sea temperatures not only the cod but most other forms of sea life vacate that area, and go to deeper water where there is less of a fluctuation of sea temperature. There are more cod caught in the summer off the wrecks – in clear water – than there are in winter. The reason the cod come inshore is because the winter gales stir up the bottom and feed becomes more available.

Myth: I cannot catch any cod because the sprats are in.
Fact: Cod can become glutted with sprats, however, for them to see and catch sprats they need clear water – not the best time for anglers. Also remember it is January and February that the sprats come inshore – which are the times of sudden temperature drops which also causes the lack of fish (see my post ‘Cold Fish’.)

Myth: I can not catch any fish because the trawlers have already caught them.
Fact: Around the 1980s the government introduced a scheme for the trawlers to decommission for large amounts of money. This incentive was to conserve fish stocks. Many of the trawler owners took up the governments offer and converted the cash into a new smaller but more efficient gill netting boat. Therefore, there is only one trawler to every twenty gill netters in this area. Now you know who to blame.

Myth: There are a load of nets a couple of hundred yards off the beach.
Fact: Don’t panic! Most times on the end of those marker buoys are, whelk and lobster pots.

Personally, I will continue to blame the French, Spanish and sprats when I have a blank days sport.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Cold fish

No matter how much you think you know about angling, nature and the fish will at times always prove you wrong. Saying that, the CELOCANT will stick his head above the parapet and no doubt be shot at, however, here goes.

Why do we not catch decent fish from the beach in the extreme cold weather? The reason is because the sea temperature drops. ‘Hang on’ I hear you say ‘they catch plenty of big fish in Norway and the Artic waters’. That is true, nevertheless, those fish live in deep water and the sea temperature alters very little over a period of time at those depths.

The shallow water from the beach is the first to drop in temperature after a cold snap. When this happens the worms tend to burrow deeper and become dormant. By not moving, they show less casts on the sand and the bait diggers find it increasingly difficult to provide for the anglers requirements (ask any tackle dealer). Also the cold affects the crustaceans; they either move to the deeper water or become inactive and go into semi-hibernation; generally hiding away out of the predators reach. With the lack of food the mature fish vacate the area in search of pastures new – normally deeper water.

As the larger predators move away this gives licence for the pesky tiddlers to compete for the food that is still showing. When the decent fish disappear there always seems to be an abundance of pin whiting. These juveniles are making the most of the situation without having to look over their shoulder or being eaten by their big brothers. Dabs, although part of the predators’ food chain, have the advantage of being able to lie flat on the bottom and are well camouflaged. They also do not seem to be overly influenced by the cold. Rockling, or slugs, are a different matter; they seem to thrive on cold weather; and with the lack of feeding competition from other fish, normally oblige the beach angler from getting a blank.

What causes the extra cold weather? High pressures that hang over Britain in the winter months will circulate the wind in a clockwise direction around them. This wind will touch the artic and Scandinavian countries bringing in their coldness. Its journey across the North Sea does little to warm it up. When it hits our coast it is from the north or east and as the saying goes ‘when the winds in the east, the fish bite least’ (not always!). These high pressures tend, if they are stable and strong enough, to stop other weather fronts from moving them. With the prolonged cold wind the inshore sea temperature drops and the decent fish go. Most humans do not feel the pressure change (yet the mercury in a barometer rises), however, that does not mean to say that the fish underwater cannot – and maybe it changes their feeding habits. Needless to say when we get a low pressure the wind circulates in an anti-clockwise direction and normally comes from the south or west. Coming off the land, the wind warms up, and fishing will start to improve (eventually).

The severe winter of 1963 (see my post ‘January 1963’) created cold northerly/easterly winds that started to freeze the sea along the shoreline at Sandwich and Pegwell Bay. This wind carried on for at least two months and the fish became impossible to catch. The probable reason for this was they had the sense to vacate the area completely. Those that didn’t were washed up frozen along the shore line. From the beginning of January 63 there was not a single fish caught from the beach until March.

So what can we conclude from all of this:
Fish do not like the sudden cold temperature change in shallow water.
Their natural feed also suffers from the cold and is not available.
High pressures could have some influence on the fishes metabolism.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the fish and nature will always prove you wrong and this is only my theory, however, what do you think?