Tuesday, 2 August 2011


With a light southwest wind and foggy conditions, the ketch Fearless slowly groped her way across the Channel from Nieuwpoort. The cargo of two hundred tons of Belgian bricks made her sit low in the water. Even with all of her limp sails set, the craft was hardly making headway and the strong tide made her difficult to handle.

The vessels captain, Ernest Leek, had calculated that they would shortly sight the coast off Deal. As soon as their position could be verified, they would hug the land, down Channel, to their destination of Shoreham. On board were four of his seasoned crewmen along with his twelve year old son and a new decky learner, Joseph Sennet. Joseph was eighteen years of age and this was his first ever voyage.

Tragedy almost struck on that peaceful Sunday, the last day of September, 1923. The white chalk cliffs of the South Foreland suddenly loomed up out of the mist. As the kelp covered rocks came into view, Joseph shouted out the danger, but the helmsman had already seen it. The wheel was put hard over and everybody on deck waited with bated breath.

The ketch was slow to answer, and the shallow water and rocks almost seemed to reach out to the Fearless. Gradualy the vessel went about and she cleared the rocky shoreline. Captain Leek decided to wait for more favourable conditions and steered his boat north towards the Downs. An hour later the anchor found a good hold a half-mile from the town of Deal.

After laying at anchor for four days they watched the dropping barometer and black squally clouds scudding in from the north. Ernest Leek knew it was time to continue his passage but first he needed some provisions. He, his son and crew rowed their small punt to Deal pier to buy victuals from the town. Leek had left his greenhorn decky leaner, Joseph Sennet, in charge of the anchored craft.

Within a few hours the tide had changed and with the ever freshening northwest wind the seas became quite lumpy. The captain of the ketch recognized that it was going to be difficult to get back to the Fearless in his punt. Leaving his crew ashore,Leek hired a galley from the beach at North Deal; which managed to get him to his vessel just before the force of the gale was unleashed.

Throughout that night, great seas swept over the Fearless as she strained at her anchor. Dawn was slow to break and the wind had not abated at all. Reluctantly Leek hoisted a signal of distress.

Coxswain William Hoile, aboard the Deal lifeboat Charles Dibden skillfully brought his craft alongside the stricken ketch. Leek and Sennet thankfully scrambled aboard the seaworthy craft leaving the only living thing aboard the Fearless, the ships’ cat, a black kitten … mewing piteously in the scuppers.

Just before 5-30p.m. the Fearless went down stern first. She settled on the bottom with both her masts still visible and torn sails flaying in the wind. All that remains of the vessel to this day are the 200 tons of bricks on the seabed.