Monday, 18 July 2011

Deal's bass wreck

For many boat anglers the wreck of the Mahratta has been a popular venue and over the years has proved to be the downfall of many bass. The shipwreck lies approximately three miles due east of Sandown Castle and her rusting remains lie just below the surface at low tide.

At the beginning of the Second World War the anchorage in the Downs was full to overflowing with ships awaiting naval officers from the Contraband Control. Neutral vessels had their nationality and countries flag painted upon the side of their hulls – this hopefully deterred the Germans or the British from attacking them on the high seas. Allied merchant vessels had their house and companies colours painted out with black paint to confuse the enemy on their origin.

The Mahratta had started her voyage from Calcutta at the outbreak of the conflict, and had received her paint job at a quick stopover in Gibraltar. After her long cruise, she was still obliged to anchor up in the Downs for inspection from the Contraband Control.

This was an unpopular task with the skippers, as they were always in a hurry to either complete or start their journeys. For the pilots who escorted the Allied ships through the British minefields, or to their destination, their painted out colours made it a nightmare to identify them amongst the other vessels in the anchorage.

On the night of October 6th, 1939, the Mahratta’s master, Captain Hill, had received orders, on the arrival of the Trinty House pilot, to proceed to her destination. His impatience cost him his ship.

Tod Carlton was the 37 year old Pilot that had been assigned the job of shepherding the Mahratta out of the Downs and up the River Thames to the London docks. He was looking forward to re-visiting the Mahratta, as he had spent time aboard her when he worked for the Brocklebank Line as 3rd officer.

Unfortunately, Captain Hill had already up-anchored and was slowly proceeding through the maze of ships. As he eased the helm to the east, to clear the tightly packed anchorage, he ran his vessel aground on the Goodwin Sands. With the calm sea and the ships slow speed the Captain thought the Mahratta’s halt was due to engine failure.

At this time the Trinty House pilot, Tod Carlton, had been searching for his charge in the darkness of that autumn evening. He found her hard and fast on the edge of the Sands, north-east of the anchorage.

As he boarded her, he reminded the captain of the dangers of the Goodwin Sands, and requested that he took all precautions to alleviate the situation. Over the next few day’s six tugs and the help of the deal boatmen could not assist in the Mahratta’s predicament and, eventually, when the weather became inclement the ships hull split in half.

If the captain had waited for the pilot, this disaster would have never happened. After the war Tod Carlton settled in Deal and in his later years opened an antique shop in Kingsdown. He died at the age of 81 and was sadly missed by his family who still reside in the area.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Deal's tackle shops in the early 60s

Back in 1963 there were three tackle shops and two bait dealers in Deal.

Finn’s Tackle Shop was situated at 123 High Street, and yours truly used to work there as a shop assistant and occasional bait digger. Duncan Finn was a rotund jovial ex- miner, who, with his limp, I surmised was pensioned out of the pits after an accident. His selling power was to be marvelled at; he could have sold Mohamed Al Fayed a Duke of Edinburgh award. You only had to look at a rod or reel and I guaranteed that you would not leave the shop until you made a purchase. If you couldn’t afford it, he then had a scheme going with the Co-op where you paid a £1 down and the tallyman collected the balance over a period of weeks. Dunc could always be recognised in his fishing garb of thick zip-up jumpers; normally blue and white with large fish motifs knitted in or just plain red and orange stripes. He also wore a woolly pom-pom hat to match each outfit.

Lugworms used to be dug from Whitstable or Seasalter, and I can remember many mornings, before first light, trying to doze in the back of his old Bedford Dormobile as we made our way for a dig. No chance, the other diggers kept me awake or the bait forks used to fall on me as we took a corner. I soon decided that the warm shop was more my style.

Frozen bait was non-existent and squid (cuttlefish actually) was stored in a bucket of salt along with another bucket where surplus worms were also salted. Needless to say when the salt got moist it began to pong. It was then my job to buy large blocks of coarse salt and crumble it up on top of the smelling mess. Consider what it was like sorting through that lot with cuts on your hand!

Another tackle shop was Terry Franks, which used to on the corner of Middle Street and Coppin Street. He had a small range of tackle, however, his main stock comprised of shotguns, air rifles, air guns and ammo. Attached to his shop door was a large bell on a spring, and after entering and the bell became silent, he would emerge from the back room with a scowl on his face. Whatever went on in his back room must have been more interesting than serving customers. He did not sell bait.

Last, but not least was ‘The Foc’sle’, opposite Deal Pier. J.B.Hurd was my hero! This large imposing man had done more for angling over the years than most. When he went fishing he was always recognisable by the duffle coat and beret that he wore. His shop was allegedly established in 1909 and he was a founding member of the Deal and Walmer Angling Club and the NFSA. His stock was sparse and he did not sell bait; nevertheless, it was his custom made rods and tackles that excelled. His rods were made to measure, and to possess a Jimmy Hurd rod was the ultimate in perfection. Unfortunately I could never afford to own one of his distinctive rods, and my efforts of emulation were very home made, as opposed to custom built.

The Willis brothers, from their house at the top of Brewer Street, specialised in selling Yellow Tails. At 2/6 (12½p) a score they were served up in two empty bean tins (half a score to a tin) full of worms and seawater. They weren’t worms they were anacondas.

The other bait outlet was Tony’s Bait Bar. This was situated at the back of the Guilford Hotel, Beach Street, or, as the restaurant was known then The Salad Bowl. Hang on! Bait bar/restaurant are you sure!!! It did not worry Tony Libby and his Pegwell Bay worms.

Just thinking about 1963 makes my eyes mist up. I was then, a 19 year old angling fanatic. I worked in a tackle shop with an equally fishing mad boss, who would leave the business to be run by his long suffering wife as we went fishing most days. Engaged to his daughter, which ensured discount tackle at all times. I also owned a boat so I could diversify from Pier, beach and freshwater fishing. Two-dozen peeler crabs sent up from Devon every week. Squeezed in 49 comps during that year according to my angling diary (or as I will now refer to it as a historic angling manuscript, sounds less sad than a diary) Ended up Deal Angling Club (1919) club champion in the 1963 beach and pier series comps … I hasten to add with a very low number of points. So was I happy? What do you think! Put it this way, I did not have enough time to phone the Samaritans.