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.