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.