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.