Saturday, 15 November 2014

South Goodwin disaster

South Goodwin disaster

By David Chamberlain

The lightships crews were normally made up of ex-Merchant Navy men, who had served on deep sea voyages, along with ex-North Sea and Arctic fishermen.  These men were used to being afloat for long periods of time without the comforts of home. They were a breed of men who could live in confined quarters and mix with their compatriots without falling out. Their only differences were the brand of tobacco they used in their pipes and cigarettes.
The six crew and Master of the South Goodwin Light vessel, LV 90, were looking forward to Christmas on that bleak night of 27th November, 1954. Their conversation in the cramped quarters of the lightship would have been of the size of the turkey that the townsfolk of Deal would donate. Just before every Christmas, a local beach boat would pull alongside the LV 90 laden with gifts and food; to make the crews life more bearable over the festive season. If the weather was too rough for the small Deal boats to get afloat, then the Walmer Lifeboat would tender the service.
There was an extra person on board the lightship that night. Ronald Murton, a soft spoken scientist for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. His job was to count and identify the migrating birds that rested on the superstructure of the light vessel. His concern was the weather forecast that the skipper of LV 90 had informed him and the crew to expect. He had been notified, via the radio telephone, of south-west winds increasing to storm force.
Throughout the night the lightship pitched and tossed as the wind screamed; Waves hitting the vessel, showering volumes’ of seawater over the bow and out through the scuppers along the deck. Unnerved and unable to sleep, Murton spent the night in the warmth of the ships galley, with an old army greatcoat over his pyjamas. The crew had tried to reassure him that the lightship’s four ton mushroom anchor would hold in any seas. 
However, it would not be the anchor that dragged that night, but one of the links in its chain that napped under the strain. The ‘heel and toe’ motion of the tethered ship was lost as she was swept across the Goodwin Sands on the tide and wind. The captain and crew were powerless to do anything as LV 90 finally went aground and rolled over on her beam ends.
Over six miles distance to seaward, the crew on watch of the East Goodwin light vessel noticed the absence of the 6000,000 candlepower beacon, flashing twice every thirty seconds, from their sister ship LV 90.  When they did not get any response from her on the radio – they alerted Trinity House and the coastguards. 
As dawn reluctantly broke, the lifeboats from Dover, Deal and Ramsgate viewed the remains of the South Goodwin lightship on the Sands. As the lifeboats could not get any closer than 700 yards to the hulk, the crews could not see any life onboard; and the sandbank had already started to consume her. Miraculously, a survivor was found, clinging to the lightship’s lattice tower. Ronald Murton was barely alive and was winched to safety by a helicopter, still in his greatcoat and pyjamas. 


Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Storm


By David Chamberlain

On the night and early hours of 26th/27th of November, 1703 a storm raced up-Channel - which increased to hurricane force winds. In the Downs the many ships that were anchored suffered from its after effects. Some were sunk, some were cast away from their moorings and many were badly damaged. The loss of life was estimated at over a thousand men.

Daniel Defoe had published, the following year, a book about the storm, however, he did not admit to being the author. His account of the loss of the ships and men-of-war on the Goodwins Sands was pure fiction. The year after publication, the mayor and jurats (councillors) of Deal took umbrage when they read the story. It was highly defamatory to the conduct of the Deal boatmen and the inhabitants of the town. Defoe had implied that they would not launch their boats to save lives on the morning after the storm; and were only interested in the plunder that could be gained from it. He also stated that the Mayor, Thomas Powell, commandeered customs boats to save two-hundred men who could be seen stranded on the Goodwin Sands.

Although this story is well known and has been retold for over 300 years, research has proved that it was all lies and libel.

The height of the storm occurred around 5 a.m. with the wind over 100 miles an hour. With low tide an hour later and daylight not occurring till after 7 a.m. it would have been impossible to see any people on the Goodwins. Also the surf hitting the sandbank would have obscured the Sands themselves. In actual fact, those sailors who needed saving could be seen clinging to the remains of their ships. The storm was still raging when Thomas Warren, who was in charge of the Admiralty Yard and future mayor of Deal, stated that it was impossible to launch any boats from the beach owing to the surf along shore. Even the captain of the largest ship that had ridden out the hurricane force winds, a three decked, second rate Prince George, wrote in his log that he could only send some of his longboats out in the afternoon – and it was still too rough to get near the stricken vessels before darkness. However, the following day, when the weather had abated some, Warren sent some Deal boats out to rescue 70 survivors from the half submerged wreck of the warship Stirling Castle. Therefore, it can be discounted that Deal boats were afloat the day before, plundering the wrecks.

The ex-mayor, Thomas Powell, must have been embarrassed by the story of him taking the custom boats by force and paying boatmen to take them afloat. So much so, that the mayor and councillors, which included Warren and Powell, wanted to sue the unknown author (Defoe) for this infamous libel. They instructed the town clerk to draw up a summons to be served on the author of the book for libel.

Daniel Defoe was a bankrupt and it could be surmised that when the Deal Council realised this, they knew it would be a waste of time pursuing the matter further. Therefore, the story/myth survived to be told and written about for hundreds of years as the truth; although as a story it makes exiting reading … as did most of Defoe’s books.


Saturday, 30 August 2014


By David Chamberlain
At the beginning of the 20th century, submarines were being developed for the British Navy. Although many in the Admiralty felt that these vessels were not a gentleman’s way of fighting sea warfare, they soon became accepted … with some reservations. In 1902, A Class type submarines were followed, two years later, by the slightly larger B Class at the cost £47,000 per vessel. The 143 feet C Class submarines were in commission by 1906 and were crewed by up to 16 officers and ratings.
Richard Ivor Pulleyne was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1911 and a year later was second in command of the submarine B2. The crew of these new craft were enthusiast and the small fleet of B and C Class submarines were on constant manoeuvres throughout the English Channel. They practiced changing over from the crafts surface petrol engines to the electric motors when submerged. On the 4th October, 1912, Puleyne, with his captain, Percy O’Brian, and their crew of 13 were with a flotilla of other B and C submarines out from Dover.  They had been on duty in the Downs and had caused some concern from the masters of steam ships; as some near misses had occurred with the low profile craft.
The German ss Amerika was an Atlantic liner of 22,621 tons, on voyage to America with a full complement of emigrants and other class passengers. As she passed the South Goodwin lightvessel and turned towards Dover to pick up mail and any last company orders; her lookouts failed to see the small submarine that had just surfaced in the choppy sea on her bow. Hardly anyone noticed or felt the collision, as Amerka hit the B2 amidships.
Lieutenant Richard Pulleyne had only just lifted up the coning tower hatch to breathe in the cold October air and attain the B2’s position. His vessel lurched on her beam ends as she scraped alongside the hull of the liner. The glancing blow of the large passenger ship had ripped a six foot hole in the submarine where the seawater flowed in uninterrupted. Below deck, the B2 was in chaos with the seamen struggling to comprehend the situation and save themselves. Immediately, the doomed craft sank to the seabed in 16 fathoms (96 feet) with 2nd Lieutenant Pulleyne huddled at the bottom of the coning tower ladder. The cries of the crew were soon stifled as the last bit of air was forced out of the submarine and Pulleyne was blown out of the coning tower hatch towards the surface.    
 Half an hour on, and over a mile away from the sinking, the sister submarine B16 found Pulleyne - barely clinging onto life. He was the only survivor of the tragedy.
Two days later, destroyers from the 6th Flotilla found the remains of the B2, three miles off the South Foreland. With the submarine almost cut in half and the dead naval personnel inside, it was deemed to leave the sunken vessel on the seabed and hold a burial service above the wreck as respect for the dead.
The First World War saw twenty-nine year old Pulleyne in command of his own submarine, the E34, which was lost with all hands just before the cessation of the conflict on the 20th July, 1918.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Deal Coast Guard Rescue

Deal coast guard rescue

By David Chamberlain

Spending Christmas in the Downs, with a north easterly blow, was not everybody’s idea of how to spend the festive season of 1913.  The three mast schooner, Robert Morris, had been anchored-up opposite Deal Castle for nine days; and had been awaiting a shift in the wind direction to continue her voyage to the Port of London with a cargo of copperas. On New Year’s Eve, the wind increased to a gale and her master, and owner, was finding the vessel straining against her two anchors. 
Captain Robert Morris had named his ship after himself and had full confidence in her seaworthiness. However, as the flood took hold against the wind on the spring tide, the seas became heavier.  At 2am her port anchor chain parted and with her starboard anchor not holding she drove down tide, to the north, with the wind pushing her shoreward.
Deal coast guards immediately saw the stricken ship’s flare and informed the crew of the north Deal lifeboat. Coxswain Adams was quick to respond. This was to be the first ‘shout’ that they had had in 7 months. It was a difficult launch in the rolling surf and the boat was swamped with water by two consecutive waves. The men struggled with the haul-off-warp and physically pulled the lifeboat through the surf and into deeper water.
By this time it had started snowing, turning into a blizzard as the Robert Morris was stranded on the high tide opposite Sandown Castle.  As hard as the lifeboat tried to assist in saving the ship’s crew, Adams did not have enough water under the Charles Dibden’s keel to manoeuvre his vessel in the teeth of the north east gale.   
The coast guards had been monitoring the situation, and as the Robert Morris grounded, her bowsprit almost touched the remains of the old Sandown Castle. Coast guard John Wood rushed into the surf attached to a safety rope carrying his heaving cane (a stick with a weighted head attached to a life line). Dressed in only his uniform, the coldness numbed him as he threw the cane. His aim was accurate, and the schooners crew grabbed and secured the line. The first two crewmen had waited for a temporary lull in the waves and were successfully helped ashore. The flare that was burning on the ship and illuminating the action extinguished and cast the area into darkness. It was also the moment that the ship’s cook misjudged his jump and fell backwards into the raging surf, disappearing under the water.  Coastguard Wood plunged below the waves and obtained a hold on the cook’s arm, only to find the man panicked and put a strangle hold on him.
In the pitch black turmoil, the awaiting coastguards, unaware to what had happened, hauled on the rope attached to their comrade. The ship’s cook was dragged out of the wave’s barely conscious and Wood being in a state of exhaustion and hyperthermia. The coastguards then fired a rocket over the ship and hauled the captain and mate ashore in a breeches buoy.

Within hours Wood had recovered and returned to the hulk, which was now high and dry on the receding tide, and went aboard, armed, to stop any looting. In the light of day, locals came to look at the spectacle and watch as the tug, Lady Vita, pull the Robert Morris off the beach, stern first, and towed her to the safety of the Dover Harbour.       

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Stormy weather

Stormy Weather

By David Chamberlain

On the night of January 13th, 1952, the worst gale of that winter was raging. Sheets of horizontal rain lashed the lifeboat crew as they were summoned to the Charles Dibden by the sound of two maroons. With limited information, Freddie Upton launched into a black raging sea and steered a course towards the South Goodwin where a flare had been sighted. As they approached the Sands he could not see any sign of the casualty and the coastguards had stated that no radio contact had been heard. After searching the western edge of the Goodwins one of the crew spotted a faint glimmer of a flare on the outer bank. In the early hours of that windswept morning they came across the remains of the French ship, Agen. Immediately it was obvious why the ship had not been in wireless contact with the coastguards and was not showing any lights - she had broken in two.
Fourteen times coxswain Upton conned the lifeboat toward the bow section of the 4,610 ton hulk, where the captain and 37 crewmen were sheltering from the massive waves that were battering the vessel. He soon realised the danger to the lifeboat and his own crewmembers and stood by the wreck until 6am and daybreak. As the tide and sea moderated slightly he steered the Charles Dibden through the narrow thirty foot gap of the two halves of the Agen. With the lifeboats cork fenders rubbing and shredding on the ship’s hull, they manhandled the dejected sailors onto the safety of their pitching and rolling craft. However, the captain of the Agen, Maurice Landreau, refused to leave.
Reluctantly, the Walmer lifeboat headed back to shore, as she were low on fuel and to deliver the suffering shipwrecked crew. By 11am on that same morning, the Charles Dibden had refuelled and headed back out to the remains of the Agen. This time captain Landreau relented, knowing there was no hope for his ship and valuable cargo. For this save Freddie Upton and his crew were honoured by the French Consul three weeks later in the Royal Hotel at Deal. A congenial evening was spent, with the consul expressing his thanks and that 38 of his compatriots were still alive and saved from the clutches of the Goodwin Sands.

Another near tragedy was also occurring on that same night, a Panamanian registered tanker, Sovak Radiant, of 17,598 tons went aground just off St Margaret’s Bay. Coastguards from Deal and Dover set up a cliff rescue unit and made the perilous decent in the gale force wind and rain. Deal man, and auxiliary coastguard, Alec Marsh, later related that the conditions were difficult and treacherous. The massive ship was not close enough inshore and their rocket propelled lines were of no use. They waited frustratingly until, in the morning light, they abandoned the rescue.  Eventually, on the next day’s high tide the stricken vessel was towed off by the tugs and salved with no loss of life and minimal damage.   


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Deal & Walmer Angling Association - the early years

The D&WAA 110th anniversary – the early years

By David Chamberlain

One of the oldest and still active sea angling clubs in Britain is holding its 110th anniversary this year. Formed in 1904, the Deal and District Angling Association comprised of a group of fishers who wished to hold competitions from Deal Pier, the beach and boats.  At their first AGM they boasted a membership of 165 and elected Percy Edgar as their chairman. Mr Edgar was also owner of the sprat canning factory at north Deal.
With a growing membership of 217 in 1906 they changed the club’s name to Deal and Walmer Angling Association. The thriving society held many Dinners, Dances, Smoking Lectures and Concerts to raise funds. These were very popular and it was noticed in one of the monthly meetings that the hire of the Royal Marines Band for an event was £3.0s.6d (approx £3.3p). The club had access to a cabin on the pavilion end of the pier where members could bait-up and hang their coats. This was kept clean by the association’s cabin steward. Unfortunately the cabin was destroyed in gales and the anglers had to wait for another to be rebuilt.
By 1911, the membership had exceeded 400 with many of the anglers coming from London and the Home Counties. The amount that were fishing in the angling festivals and competitions warranted the club to request that the South Eastern Railway  reduce fares and alter timetables to accommodate their members travelling arrangements.  All of the festivals were held as a three day event and 50 boats were recorded as being launched from the beach in the 1911 boat festival. These competitions were not only for the men, the association also held an annual pier festival for women.  The women’s event always attracted over 50 female competitors.
Fishing in those days was not as high tech as it is for the modern day angler. Rods were normally made from heavy greenheart wood with pulleys or fragile agate encased top rings. The reels, or winches as they were known by, were also made from walnut. These ‘star back centre-pin reels’ were so called because of the brass framework that held the reel secure to the rod. With thick cutyhunk line the outfit was not meant to be cast any distance. Dropping over the side of the boat or pier would suffice.

During the First World War, membership declined although the association still tried to maintain the clubs function and competitions.  In 1916 they put a fishing match on Deal Pier for wounded service men who were convalescing. This was noted as the first of its kind held around the English Coast; and even brought the comments of King George V, expressing his appreciation of the Association’s efforts. As the competition progressed, the invaliding soldiers were inundated with gifts of cigarettes, tobacco, sausage rolls and meat pies. The proprietor of the Clarendon Hotel donated a cask of ginger wine to fortify the men against the chilly northerly wind. Of the 150 men who fished only 43 managed to catch fish, which comprised of dogfish, congers, codling, soles and pouting. The Deal and Walmer Angling Association made sure that all of the competitors won a prize. The winner, Pte Borthwick, with 2lb 13oz was presented with the main prize by Lady Haig and General Neville White.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Deal's largest cod

Deal’s largest rod and line caught cod
By David Chamberlain
The morning of Saturday, 30th December, 1972, started as an overcast cold day, with a gentle north-west wind. At that time, I was working for the Walmer based H&S (Harris and Steytler) fleet of wooden charter boats. Being a neap tide, it did not take too long to get the boats ready for the 10am launch. In those days, the anglers’ charters were for six hours with the boats returning to the beach at 4pm. With a calm sea all of the craft headed out on an easterly course into Trinity Bay, two miles off Deal.  
My boss, Ken Steytler, had asked me to keep an eye on another boat in his fleet, the Meranda.  The Lister air cooled diesel engine in the Meranda had been a little temperamental and in case of a breakdown I would be there, in the Norah, to tow her home. Brian Maidment was the Meranda’s skipper that day and both of us, with our angling parties, anchored up in 10 fathoms (60 feet) of water.
The expected quarry for the anglers was cod. When the weather was fine there had been good catches and many anglers had descended on Deal and Walmer to enjoy the sport.  Trade was brisk and Deal greatly benefited from the anglers revenue. 
At half past three in the afternoon, I requested my anglers to pack up fishing and prepare for the 30 minute journey back to shore.  They had had a good days sport catching ten cod over 10lbs with lots of whiting and pouting filling the fish boxes. With the anchor on board I motored the short distance to the Meranda and enquired if the engine in Brian’s boat was functioning.  Brian told me that he was happy with the situation and would make his own way ashore … and that they had only caught one cod.  However, when he struggled to lift the fishes head and then flank above the Meranda’s gunnels, I realised that this was the largest cod that I had seen in my life.
With all the boats ashore and darkness approaching, I had another look at the cod. Brian explained that one of the anglers on board the Meranda had just eaten their lunch and, after smoking a cigarette, felt seasick.  He asked the skipper if he would like to use his rod and reel until he felt better. Brian baited the hook with lug and squid and tried his luck. Little did he know that he was to capture the largest cod on rod and line ever to be seen in Deal! The fish measured 46 inches in length with a 30 inch girth and weighed in at 50lb 14oz.   
Shortly after I had left, the photographer turned up and Brian gained overnight fame.  That cod won him numerous prizes of rods, reels and even a fishing holiday in Cornwall. Brian donated the cod to Deal Council who sent it to a London taxidermist for a plaster cast to be made. The replica cod was hung in the Goodwins Bar on the end of Deal Pier with an unveiling ceremony conducted by the then Mayor and Mayoress, Alderman and Mrs Phillip Wilson-Haffenden. It was very much admired over the years until it unfortunately disappeared when the CafĂ© was demolished to make way for the new restaurant.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Past Memories from the beach ...

 One of my customers, let’s call him Alf as that was his name, used to book me up on monthly fishing trips. Alf was a keen and enthusiastic angler who had served in ‘Flower Class’ corvettes in the Second World War. He had the physique and humour of a matelot and we got on well together. I was sad when told of his demise, however, his daughter phoned me and asked if I would scatter his ashes from the place he loved to fish. I readily agreed and informed her there would be no charge.
A week later, his daughter phoned again with the date for the scattering. She also informed me that a small wooden casket had been made to accommodate Alf’s ashes. I explained that wood would float and it would need to be weighted. She explained that had been taken into consideration and holes had been drilled into the casket along with some lead. The casket had been tested in the bath and was of negative buoyancy and it would be of no problem sinking. The lady certainly convinced me that she had everything under control.
The day came for the event and Alf’s family duly boarded the Morning Haze and we set off from the beach. I had travelled a mile out to sea and was close to the Deal Bank buoy, as it was a focal point that could be seen from shore; and the family would be able to remember where Alf’s ashes had been scattered if they visited Deal again. I stopped the engine and lowered the flag to half mast. The casket was rested on the boat’s gunnels and the daughter said a few words about her father. She then took out a small bottle of Bacardi … I must admit I quickly looked in the wheelhouse for a cup. To my disappointment she poured the contents over the casket this being Alf’s favourite tipple.
From then on it all started to go terribly wrong. The writing on the casket with Alf’s full name, date of birth and death, plus RIP, must have been in transfer form. With the neat spirit being applied, the transfers started to dissolve and slide over the lid of the oak box ending up like alphabet spaghetti. I’m not sure if Alf’s wife noticed, but I know the daughter had as she hurriedly launched Alf into the sea. There were a few sobs and then silence. The casket was bobbing up and down with more freeboard than the Morning Haze. After the silence poor Alf’s wife started crying with his daughter looking on embarrassed.
I quickly took over the situation and unhooked the landing net scooping Alf back on board before he drifted away. I think I made up the excuse that he would be a danger to shipping if left. His ashes were in a sealed plastic bag that was acting as a life jacket, hence the caskets buoyancy. Obviously the daughter hadn’t tested that in the bath. I quickly scrabbled into my tool box and found a large lead filled priest that I used on congers and lashed it onto the casket with the utmost haste. Finally Alf was committed to the deep and this time he sank.
Death is not a joking matter and I take it seriously, however, I’m sure that Alf would have seen the funny side to this; as he was brought back onboard in the same net that had also landed the many large fish he had caught in the past. By the time we got ashore Alf’s wife had stopped crying although still naturally sad. She thanked me as did the rest of the family when they disembarked onto the beach, although, I must admit the daughter looked very sheepish.