Thursday, 3 September 2015

Trawling in Sandwich Bay 1966


Pirate on the Goodwins

By David Chamberlain

The shipping forecast on Tuesday 19th November, 1991, told of increasing north-east winds. By midday, the light breeze had strengthened into a gale and throughout that night and Wednesday morning it still raged. It was during those turbulent early hours that the pirate radio ship, Ross Revenge, had snapped her anchor cable and drifted 15 miles where she went aground on the Goodwin Sands. Until their stranding, at 4:15 a.m., the six people aboard the ship were still asleep, but when they understood their predicament they were prompt to alert the coastguard through the VHF transmitter.

The Ross Revenge was a retired British registered trawler, previously the German fishing vessel, Freyr, which had plied her trade in the rough Icelandic waters. When the Ross Fisheries Group sold her she became a wreck recovery vessel, until she was purchased by Radio Caroline in 1983.

Ramsgate lifeboat promptly responded to the call, but they also ran aground in the shallow water and tumultuous seas that surrounded the Goodwins. For her coxswain it was one of the worst moments of his career and he was fortunate to get the craft off the sand bank.

As the Dover Harbour tug, Dextrous, skippered by Steve Parsons, raced to the scene, he realised the Radio Caroline’s caretaker crew were getting desperate. He could hear them, on the ship's radio, shouting for immediate assistance. By this time the R.A.F rescue helicopter from Manston had been scrambled and was above the wreck. They airlifted the frightened survivors from the bridge of the 30-year-old decommissioned trawler at 7:10 a.m. on that cold spume filled morning.

Meanwhile, Captain Parsons could not get his tug any closer than 900 feet from the casualty and, as he watched, the Ross Revenge bumped a further 600 yards across the sands.

The Dextrous stood by; however, it was not until the following day that the wind fell light enough for the tug to transport five men aboard the derelict vessel over the high tide.

All of that day on channel 11, of the V.H.F radio, the Dover Coastguards issued the following warning   “A wreck is stranded on the Goodwin Sands, 307 degrees from the East Goodwin Lightship, 1.8 miles.”

On Friday 22nd, November, the sea still remained calm and Steve Parsons was back on station in his tug Dextrous; along with her sister tug, Deft. At 11 a.m. on the 6.8 metre high water he backed his vessel up to the wreck, which was slightly across the tide with a build up of sand on her port side. After the towing cable had been secured to the pirate radio ship’s stern, Steve gunned the tug’s 2,850 horse power Ruston engines (which gave her a bollard towing power of 30 tons). Much to his amazement, the hulk slid off the sands with ease and was towed into slightly deeper water. It was determined that she was to be pulled through the Kellet Gut (a gap between the Goodwin Sands) and into Trinity Bay. By 12:30 p.m., both tugs had secured the Ross Revenge fore and aft and they steamed her into Dover Harbour where she was moored up to the Eastern Arm. Within an hour, Her Majesty's Customs had closed the ship up and her owners started to negotiate a suitable sum for salvage.

December of that year, found her moved to Dover’s Granville Dock and there was a rumour that she was up for sale at £20,000. It was then reported that the owners had paid a £10,000 deposit on her the following month. In March 1992, the station manager, Peter Moore, collected quotations from towing companies to have the vessel removed to Chatham Dockyard as a tourist attraction; and secure a legal license to transmit pop music.

Negotiations carried on for months, with the Department of Transport taking an interest in the condition of the ship. On Thursday morning, the 27th October, 1993, the ex-Grimsby trawler Ross Revenge was towed out of Dover Harbour and north towards the Thames estuary. The DoT had passed her seaworthy after a refit and her owners having paid the remaining balance on her salvage fee and harbour dues. At least the Goodwins had given this pirate a chance for redemption.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Unlucky lightship

The unlucky lightship.

David Chamberlain


Being afloat in and around the Goodwin Sands in thick fog is an unnerving feeling. The crews aboard the lightships not only had to keep a constant lookout, but also had to put up with the continuing blasts from their foghorn. During the early months of 1929 sea mists and fog had been a problem throughout the Downs and the Sands. Those aboard the Gull Light vessel were almost immune to the unvarying drone of the horn for hours on end.   

The Gull or LV38 had not long been on station after her refit. The wooden ship was comfortable and she rode the sea well in the winter gales; however, fog and calm seas brought another danger – that of collision. The lightships were placed in strategic positions around the Goodwins to warn shipping of the immediate danger. With radar not yet invented, most ships would reduce speed and proceed with caution, or even anchor-up until the fog lifted.

In the early hours of March 18th 1929 the two men on watch, of the Gull light vessel, desperately tried to peer through the fog as they heard the deep throb of a ship’s engine approaching. The 7,844 ton passenger ship City of York was progressing through the Gull Stream, the inshore route inside the Goodwin Sands. Unbeknown to them they were on a collision course with the Gull light vessel.

Even at slow speed the towering bows of the liner sliced a large hole through the hull of the light vessel amidships. The rest of the four crew and master were awoken by the sound of splintering wood and the Gull’s lantern crashing down on her deck. The impact of the collision nearly put the Gull onto her beam ends as she bounced of the City of York’s bows and started to sink. The lightships six crew were picked up by the City of York, which had stopped on impact. The Gull’s master could not be found.

Within weeks, Trinity House had arranged for the light vessel to be lifted from the seabed. It was then, when the divers were fitting lifting strops to the Gull that they found the master, Captain Williams. His body was in a standing position, jammed in between his cabin furniture. It was surmised that he was trapped as his vessel started to sink before he could leave his cabin. 

After the Gull was salvaged and repaired she was put on duty as the Brake light vessel, and stationed a mile opposite Sandown Castle guarding the Brake Sands. Word had it that she was haunted and unlucky - and on a stormy night in 1940 she almost sank again, when an Italian ship collided with her.

Further repairs and a refit by Trinity House made her seaworthy once more and LV 38 was moored in the mouth of the Thames as the Mouse light vessel. Following a German air attack in 1941, she was laid up for the remainder of the war. The lightship was then purchased in 1947 by Thurrock Yacht Club to be used as their club house until 1970.

Unfortunately, she was left to disintegrate and become vandalised.  All that remains of the 152 year old vessel now, is part of her rotting hull on the mud at Grays on the Thames.