Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The Goodwin Sands of Time

In June of 2013 the Royal Air Force Museum London salvaged a Luftwaffe Dornier 17 aircraft from about 60 feet of water off the coast of Kent. After being shot down by RAF fighters, the WWII German 'level bomber' was left resting inverted on the "Goodwin Sands".

Goodwin Sands, located about four sea miles off the east coast of Kent, England, is a famous shipwreck park and it has held this status for centuries, tricking, often by snapping into high tide mode and disappearing below the water's surface, many a sailor to an unfortunate and premature death.

It has been estimated that over two-thousand ships have been decommissioned by navigating in error — or uncontrollably during a storm or strong wind — over this famous "ship swallower".

One famous incident, from November of 1954, happened when the South Goodwin light vessel broke from her anchor chain during a severe storm, travelled about six miles and ended up on her side in the sands. All seven of her crew perished.

In geographical terms the sands, broken only by a deep gully, called the Kellet Gut, measure about twelve miles north-south and more than two miles at their widest point. Always in flux, as though a pair of giant hands is kneading, they shape-shift constantly — more radically during big storms. All this moving about occasionally reveals a long lost shipwreck, perhaps a few pieces of wood, only to disappear again into the sands of time.

Years ago I read a quote from a letter written by a sailor who witnessed events during the terrible storm (which sent four ships of the line to the sands) of November 26-27, 1703...

"These ships fired their guns all night and day long, poor souls, for help, but the storm being too fierce and raging, could have none to save them. The ship called the Shrewsberry that we are in, broke two anchors, and did run mighty fierce backwards, within sixty or eighty yards of the sands, and as God Almighty would have it, we flung our sheet anchor down, which is the biggest, and so stopped.... To see Admiral Beaumont that was next to us, and all the rest of his men, how they climbed up the main mast, hundreds at a time crying out for help, and thinking to save their lives, and in a twinkling of an eye were drowned.... I have not had my clothes off, nor a wink of sleep these four nights...."

Goodwin Sands reveals its crests by rising one or two metres above sea level during low tide. As a matter of fact you can play a quick game of cricket — just make sure you wrap up the match before the beaches submerge again, or a cricket bat may mark the spot.

(I guess this precludes certain famous rivalries from partaking in any matches in this venue.)

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