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.