Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Deal boatman regrets ...

A Deal boatman regrets …

By David Chamberlain

At 11.30am on Wednesday the 11th November, 1914, the small motor boat Elsie left Deal beach on a sunny autumn day. Onboard were the owner, Harry Pearson and his crewmate Thomas Heard. Pearson’s boat was one of the few on the beach that was motorised and was in demand for ship attendance work throughout the busy anchorage of the Downs. With the First World War in its early stage the Downs was being used as a Contraband Control area, forcing all ships to anchor and undergo searches for war materials that could be used by the enemy … and also spies. To enforce any reluctant vessels captains’ to comply with this order was the gunboat H.M.S. Niger.

The Niger was a torpedo gunboat of 810 tons and carried a complement of 85 men. Although she was old, being built in 1892, she had enough fire power, with her two 4.7 inch guns and four three pounders – plus three 18 inch torpedo tubes, to make any contraband runner think twice. Her presence could be seen by all as she was anchored in the fairway opposite Deal Pier.   

Harry Pearson and Tom Heard were old friends and part of the lifeboat crew, with Harry as second coxswain of the North Deal lifeboat and Thomas the ex-skipper of the then defunct Walmer lifeboat.  They both worked the Elsie in all the occupations that the Deal boatmen did in those days. Netting for herring and sprats in the winter, mackerel in the summer and accompanying the new trend of channel swimmers. Harry Pearson was famous for piloting the second person to ever swim the Channel, Thomas Burgess on his record swim. This particular day they were doing ship attendance work and had aboard Captain Jorgensen, the master of the sailing vessel Majorka.

The Majorka had been in collision with another ship and Jorgensen had been ashore to telegraph the owners to make arrangements for his damaged vessel. As the Elsie motored back out towards the sailing ship, Jorgensen exclaimed he had sighted a mine. Harry Pearson viewed where the Norwegian captain was pointing and stated that it was probably the mast from the steamship Adjutant, that had been sunk a week earlier in another collision.

Little did Pearson realise that what he saw was the periscope of a German u-boat that was stalking H.M.S Niger. At 10 minutes past midday, in a freshening southerly breeze, the U12 released a single torpedo which struck the Niger a fatal blow on her starboard side. Within 30 minutes the old torpedo gunboat slid beneath the sea in eight fathoms (48 feet) of water.

Later that day, Harry Pearson related what he had seen. The four feet grey like spar, which had been the U 12’s periscope, was only yards from his boat. He had motored over the stern of the submerged u-boat; and if the periscope had been raised at that time, Pearson speculated, it would have gone through the planks of the Elsie. He reminisced, in hindsight, that he could, if he had known it was a u-boat, smashed the glass of the periscope with his boathook and saved the Admiralty a loss of one of their ships. This was possibly a regret he harboured for the rest of his life.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Goodwin Sands Silver

By David Chamberlain

Over the centuries there have been reports of treasure being discovered on the Goodwin Sands. However, it was not until 2005 that these rumours became fact. when the contents of the Dutch East Indiaman Rooswijk’s cargo of a thousand bars of silver and 36,000 pieces of eight were recovered.

The Rooswijk had set sail with a full cargo from the port of Texel on the 8th of January, 1740. Her destination was the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) headquarters in Batavia (now Jakarta). A few days later and at night in a snow storm, which was being whipped up by a severe north-east gale, she ran aground on the Goodwin Sands. The surf was so great, the vessel was instantly swamped and the crew’s actions were rendered powerless.

The ship was quickly pounded to pieces and all the crew, plus 250 of the companies solders, perished.  Such was the ferocity of the storm there was nobody about to witness the mariners plight. The following day, wreckage was found washed-up on the beach. A Deal longshoreman found a chest that contained letters written in a foreign language; being an honest fellow he retuned it to the customs officials.  It was from these letters that the tragedy was realised and the name of the shipwreck known, however, at that time, her remains were never found.

The shape of the Goodwin Sands is changing constantly, as one year there might be an area where the sand has scoured away … then only to be filled the following year. Therefore, if a shipwreck is exposed on the Goodwins, there could be a good chance that it will disappear just as quickly as it was found.

In 2002, a diver discovered the remains of the richly laden Dutch East Indiaman Rooswijk close to the Kellet Gut on the Goodwins. He then arranged that the dive support vessel Terschelling assist in his quest to recover her cargo. Although this was done in strict secrecy the Dutch Government, as owners of the wreck and cargo, was also involved in the venture.

In the summer of 2005, the Terschelling anchored over the wreck and recovered the boxes of silver bullion. Onboard were archaeologists to record and recover artefacts for the Dutch museums. The immense value of these finds, academically as well as financial, have not yet been totalled. Nevertheless, they would have lain unnoticed, possibly forever, on the Goodwin Sands if it had not been for the dedication of the lone diver that discovered the wreck.

The Rooswijk was made a protected wreck site on 18th January, 2007 by the government and English Heritage to enable no unauthorised diving to take place. It is now one of the five historic and protected shipwrecks on the Goodwins.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Deal's greatest ambassador to angling

Deal’s greatest ambassador to angling

By David Chamberlain

Throughout the autumn of 1963, there were a group of anglers who frequented the south corner of the bottom deck on Deal Pier most evenings. They were taking advantage of the prolific cod stocks that the previous cold winter had revived.  One such man excelled in the task and managed to find more and larger fish than most. Born in January, 1900, Cecil James Barber Hurd was always recognisable in his duffle coat and black beret. He was at all times known as Jim and was the proprietor of the local tackle shop, The Foc’sle, which was situated opposite the entrance of Deal Pier.
In 1925 Jim Hurd had married the previous owner of The Foc’sle’s daughter, Margaret Marshall, who was also a keen angler. Eventually he took over the running of the shop, which had been established in 1909, until his death in 1978. They had a daughter, Alison, who was born in 1930. Throughout his life he had dedicated himself to angling and the promotion of Deal as being the Mecca of angling. He joined the Deal and Walmer Angling Association (founded in 1904 and one of the oldest clubs in England) as a young man and was Vice-chairman by 1927; finally becoming chairman for a period of 18 years.

As chairman, Jim Hurd took a keen interest in angling politics and was elected onto the standing committee of the National Federation of Sea Anglers (NFSA) which, at that time, was developing and taking over from the previous governing body the British Sea Angling Society.  He helped form the rules and regulations being used by the Federation that has only recently been made defunct and is now incorporated in the Angling Trust. In 1950 he instigated that the Deal and Walmer Angling Association (D&WAA) hold a tope festival. The tope are a small shark which frequented the Goodwin Sands. On the first festival 89 anglers participated and caught 12 large tope. This event became popular and anglers from all over Britain came to Deal to enter.

 The Deal and Walmer Angling Association honoured him with a life membership in 1952 and a Vice-Presidency in 1955. It would have been the same year that the national body, the NFSA, also awarded Jim the tribute of becoming a life member and two years later Vice-Chairman and Vice-President of their organisation.
Jim Hurd’s tireless enthusiasm made Deal the centre of angling - and him an ambassador of the sport. Local boatmen, hotel keepers and shopkeepers made a good living from the fishermen that came to Deal. He wrote up-to-date reports for the Fishing Gazette, a national angling paper, which was read by anglers all over Britain. From his tackle shop he invented many kinds of tackle that improved the anglers’ catches and was way ahead of his time in rod design. To own a custom built rod by JB Hurd with the Foc’sle transfer on it was the ultimate in angling equipment.

It is doubtful that the small group of anglers who clustered around their rods under the dim lights of Deal Pier in the autumn of 1963 had realised all the good work that this large man, attired in his duffel coat and beret, had done in the past … if they did they would have felt it a privilege to have known Jim Hurd.          


The demise of the boats at Deal

The demise of the boats at Deal

By David Chamberlain

At the beginning of the 1960s, a Deal boatman’s licence could be obtained from Deal pier master, Captain Harris. Although there were new builds, many of the pleasure boats were old and some had been converted from sail to motor. The skills of Deal boatmen were renowned and the only accidents that happened, in the many boats that plied for hire, were the occasional soaking to their clientele.  However, in August 1966, the pleasure boat Dalwin was sunk off Cornwall with the loss of 31 lives, and this would affect the way these boats were licensed from then on.

The shock waves of this disaster carried throughout Britain and the Government requested that local seaside councils take another look at their responsibilities to the general public and the licensing of boatmen and their vessels. Deal Council insisted that all boatmen took a test and received a Board of Trade certificate. These verbal tests were carried out at the old Quarter Deck building with a B.O.T examiner in charge. This licence was duly issued allowing the skipper to take afloat 250 passengers … but only three miles out to sea.

The Council also expected all boats that wished to take fare paying passengers should be seaworthy and issued a yellow plastic plaque which was screwed to the bow of the craft for the public to view. When the Board of Trade was dissolved, and new boatmen required a licence, the Council asked that the Deal & Walmer Inshore Fishermans Association provide a test for the prospective applicants. This was carried out with the help of three full time boatmen, an observer and an officer from the Council’s foreshore department. Everybody was happy and the reputation of boatmen and safety of passengers was one hundred percent. However, the three mile licence was a bone of contention. This argument was brought up at a council meeting in the Town Hall and the boatmen managed to temporary convince the council that they had a ten mile from land dispensation.

Eventually the Government tightened the screws and insisted that the boats carried a vast amount of safety equipment onboard and a professional survey be carried out on the vessels plying for hire. The boatmen were to have a licence issued from a national governing body which would be relevant to all English ports. The argument of the Deal boatmen was that, as they operated from the beach, their crafts were smaller than those from harbours and did not have the room to stow the extra equipment and life rafts. Their needs did not come into the equation and many were priced out of making it a viable business proposition. 

The many angling boats, that were once a familiar sight along the beach, started to disappear, and at this time of writing there is only one plying for hire. Safety is not only paramount but, in this day and age, it is imperative. However, those halcyon days that brought many happy memories to thousands of boat anglers who had fished from Deal’s piscatorial paradise … are just memories.