Monday, 30 May 2011

The un-happy Christmas

On Christmas Eve, 1946, the skyline east of Deal was to be blighted by the sight of a shipwreck which would remain for almost fifty years. In foggy conditions the 7,612 ton North Eastern Victory raced up Channel to enable the skipper and crew to spend Christmas at her port of destination, Antwerp.

Captain Kohstrohs either did not hear, or ignored, the warning cannons being fired from the South Goodwin lightship as they hurtled past. The Victory ship’s 6,000 horse power engine was at full speed and this, coupled with the assistance of a spring tide, was propelling the vessel at a speed of 21 knots.

Kohstrohs’ charts of the area did not advise of the dangers from the Goodwin Sands and the American War Administration felt the use of pilots a wasteful source of finance. Within five miles of passing the lightship the North Eastern Victory came to an abrupt standstill as she ran onto the Sands. The force of the grounding carried away her radio aerials making communication useless … and in the swirling fog, her master realised it would have been pointless to set off flares.

Luckily the ever alert Deal boatmen realised that the South Goodwin Lightship’s warning cannon fire meant that there could be a chance of trouble. It was left to old Joe Mercer, in the beach boat Rose Marie, to go and investigate. An hour later he came up against the slab-sided hull of the Victory ship high and dry on the Goodwins. Joe realised that the vessel was doomed and informed Captain Kohstrohs that he would summon the lifeboat.

At five minutes past five that afternoon the Charles Dibden launched in darkness into a calm sea. Coxswain Freddie Upton soon found the casualty and took off 36 of her crew. Only the Captain and six officers stayed aboard the stricken hulk. As he left, Upton noticed a two foot gash had already appeared across the deck of fated ship. By 10 o’clock that night the lifeboat had offloaded her human cargo and had returned to the shipwreck.

As the wind freshened, the men spent an uncomfortable night on the lifeboat, which was standing by the wreck. Their only consolation, apart from a ration of rum, was some turkey that had been prepared in the North Eastern Victory’s galley previously. Christmas Day was greeted with a blood red sky. True to the weather saying of ‘Shepherds warning’ the Charles Dibden’s radio came to life with a gale warning from the Coast Guard. After a brief discussion with the cargo vessels captain, Freddie convinced them it was time to leave.

Over the years the masts of the North Eastern Victory could be seen from the beaches of Deal as a prominent reminder of the dangers of the Goodwins. In January 1995 the remaining rusting mast disappeared in the aftermath of a winter’s storm. Fondly known as the ‘Sticks’ to the Deal boatmen, it was yet another part of Deal history to fade away.

No comments: