Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Goodwin Sands

Deal Pier today (Goodwin Sands beyond and to the right)

The Goodwin Sands lie about six miles off the shoreline of Kent and stretch for roughly 10 miles along the English Channel from Kingsdown to Pegwell Bay.  It's all a little approximate because the size and position vary to some extent with the sea's action.  This is the narrowest part of one of the busiest shipping channels in the world so it's not surprising that there are three lightships marking the area, to the north, south and east.

Map of shipwrecks, Deal Pier

The Sands are almost always described as treacherous.  If you look that up you'll be told it means "marked by hidden dangers, hazards or perils" as well as "unstable and insecure".  These words describe the area so well.  Unstable and insecure because the sands constantly move and shift.  The hidden dangers and hazards are all too evident if you look at the map above showing the shipwrecks - there are thousands, so many that it's almost impossible to read the map.  And the wrecks constitute something of a danger themselves.  Until recently two have been visible even at high tide.  Both were American cargo ships, both lost in 1946.

The Luray Victory ran aground at full speed in January during a gale.  The abrupt stop immobilised the engine, and even at high tide next day, it was impossible to refloat her.  After she broke up, the hull lodged on the chalk bed beneath the sands and can be seen to this day.  The North Eastern Victory ran into the Goodwins in fog on Christmas Eve.  All the crew were rescued by the Walmer Lifeboat, but the wreck remained as a warning until the masts one by one succumbed to the weather, finally disappearing completely sometime in January 1995. 

When the tide is low the sands appear above water level, such that you can actually walk on them.  There has been a tradition of playing an annual cricket match there until relatively recently, but it was only too easy to be caught by rising tides as a BBC team found out when attempting a reconstruction.

Book cover "Heroes of the Goodwin Sands"

But in spite of the treachery of the Sands, Deal has benefited from having some protection from the power of the sea.  At one time it was a very busy port because of the shelter provided to the west of the Sands.  The local boatsmen, as many as 1000 men, used to help ships in distress, or pilot any leaving or entering the Downs.  There was, it's said, a certain amount of smuggling too, and Deal was of the centres of Free-trade.  That example of free enterprise resulted in the burning of the boats used, on the orders of William Pitt the Younger.

The Goodwins, I think they call the place; a very dangerous flat, and fatal, where the carcasses of many a tall ship lie buried, as they say, if my gossip Report be an honest woman of her word. 
Shakespeare ~ The Merchant of Venice.
The latest wreck on the Goodwin Sands.
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  1. What a great presentation of an area I most likely will never see, along with the history behind it! Great post :)

  2. Hello A. I've finally found your blog through Wise Herb's. You know me better as TBSITW. I'll be glad to dip into your blog from time to time now.

  3. Interesting post. Clicked on that BBC link -- oh my re what happened that day! :O


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