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.