The East Goodwin Lightvessel Incident
The East Goodwin Lightvessel breaks adrift from her Assigned Position, endangering the lives of the men onboard.
No. 21 Lightvessel at East Goodwin (1973)
From Trinity House’s Flash magazine at the time:
“When the first news about the East Goodwin [Lightvessel] breaking adrift was heard, the hearts of all members of the Service, no matter what the rank or job, must have gone out towards the crew in what turned out to be days of struggle against the elements. The fact that all was well in the end was indeed welcome news throughout the Service. The Light Vessel crew and the crew of Vestal must have lived through many anxious moments during the four days when the Light Vessel was off station. In the following articles both Mr. Harvey, Master of the Light Vessel and Mr. Tarrant, Commanding Officer of [THV] Vestal, have set down the sequence of events as seen from their own particular points of view.”
“On the night of the 12th November 1961, almost to the month of the seventh anniversary of the tragic episode involving the South Goodwin Light Vessel, one of her sister ships the East Goodwin was parted from her moorings in a North Easterly gale. When this news became a known fact, the crew were alerted to their various break-adrift positions. This operation was carried out with alacrity, the speed and the drift of the vessel was checked, and eventually she rode securely at 130 fathoms in 15 fathoms of water 2 miles E.N.E. of the South Goodwin Light Vessel. The Ship’s position was made known to the Chief Superintendent, Harwich, via Deal Coastguard.
By this time the Walmer Lifeboat was in attendance, and remained by the Light Vessel the whole of Sunday night. In the meantime a new cable was being put aboard the T.H.V. Vestal at Harwich to be transferred to the Light Vessel on arrival at her position.
The weather by this time had worsened, and the T.H.V. Vestal’s passage to the Light Vessel from Harwich was made in a Force 8 North Easterly gale, and it must have been a most uncomfortable trip for her crew, but they carried on despite the elements, and arrived at the position of the Light Vessel at 1400 on the Monday. The new cable for the Light Vessel had to be clenched together and this involved quite a lot of work. T.H.V. Vestal had to proceed to Trinity Bay to effect this in quieter waters.
In the meantime the Lifeboats in turn — Walmer, Dover and Ramsgate — stood by the Light Vessel and all concerned hoped that the weather would soon moderate and the operation of getting the Light Vessel back on her assigned position would be under way. The weather decided otherwise, and on Monday night the wind had increased to reach Force 10 in the north Easterly squalls. The Light Vessel had dragged to the Southwold, changing her bearings slightly, but was still secure on the Tuesday morning, and constant checks were being made on her position.
On the Tuesday afternoon the weather had moderated sufficiently to allow T.H.V. Vestal to come alongside the Light Vessel and to pass her the new cable, and place the anchor in position, after the Lightship had been towed to Trinity Bay and quieter waters.
On Wednesday the 15th of November, the Light Vessel was towed and relaid to position ½ cable to the Eastward of her charted position, to enable T.H.V. Vestal to grapnel for the lost anchor. This operation was successful and the Light Vessel was then placed on Station, and the drama was over.
Thanks are due to all who took part in this operation for its merciful conclusion.”
“The first news of the East Goodwin having broken adrift reached Harwich just before 10 p.m. on Sunday, November 12th, during the Royal Command television programme. Deal Coastguard telephoned to say the Light Vessel appeared to be drifting South and a few minutes later confirmed this by a radio call to the lightship.
Immediate action was taken to call out the crew of T.H.V. Vestal by the ship on stand by for any emergency.
All hands were on board by 11 p.m. some of them turning out in response to the news flash on television, without waiting for the messenger to call. In the meantime T.H.V. Vestal had made R/T contact with the East Goodwin and we were relieved to learn that she had dropped her spare bower anchor and stopped her drift.
The Walmer Lifeboat had reached the Light Vessel by then and was standing by to take the men off if need be. She had been driven almost 6 miles from her station, and fortunately the direction had been parallel to the Sands and not on to them.
Harwich Depot staff had also been called out and they proceeded to load T.H.V. Vestal with a complete new Light Vessel riding cable, 270 fms. in 15 fm. lengths, and a 5 ton anchor. This was all on board by 2 a.m. on the Monday morning.
By that time the wind had increased to almost Force 9 from the N.E. and this, coupled with the flood tide, made it impracticable for the ship to leave at once without grave risk of damage.
At 4.30 a.m. conditions had improved a little, with the ebb tide, and T.H.V. Vestal got away safely.
The trip to the East Goodwin normally takes about 5 to 6 hours, but it was a very unpleasant 9 ½ hours before she was reached this time. T.H.V. Vestal then fixed her position as being 2 ½ miles East of the South Goodwin Light Vessel and this was reported in order that shipping could be warned about the situation.
Conditions at the Light Vessel were far too rough to take her in tow, and T.H.V. Vestal sought the comparative shelter offered under the lee of the Goodwins, some 5 miles away, in order to start the work of clenching up the new cable. The Walmer Lifeboat was relieved at 2 p.m. by the Dover Lifeboat, having been guarding the Light Vessel since 11 p.m. the previous night. The Dover boat kept watch until 10 p.m. when she was relieved by the Ramsgate boat for the night watch. These crews had a most unpleasant task, and all praise is due to them for sticking it out. The sea was so bad that they were continually soaked by spray and were not able to smoke or make a hot drink at any time.
THV Vestal spent a very uncomfortable night at anchor with the wind reaching Force 10 in gusts and a heavy sea running, even on the lee side of the Goodwins. The Light Vessel was even more uncomfortable of course, and nobody on board had much sleep.
On Tuesday morning, the weather had improved slightly and T.H.V. Vestal was able to stay near the Light vessel, although it was still not fit to take her in tow. About mid-day it was apparent that the weather had moderated sufficiently so that T.H.V. Vestal could lower her boat if it should be necessary, and so the Lifeboat was recalled to her station.
When the Light Vessel’s position had been determined by T.H.V. Vestal it seemed highly probable that she was hooked on to a submarine telephone cable which was known to run close by. In consultation with the Post Office authorities it was decided by Trinity House that the Light Vessel’s anchor and cable should be slipped if necessary, rather than risk damage to the telephone cable. In such cases the Post Office pays for the lost gear as it saves them a greater expense should damage be done in trying to clear the foul anchor.
On Wednesday morning the wind was still fresh, but conditions were fit to take the Light Vessel in tow. T.H.V. Vestal anchored ahead of her and passed a line aboard before weighing the Light Vessel’s anchor. This was found to be foul of something, as suspected, and the anchor cable was cut at 15 fms. and then slipped.
In order to transfer the new cable and anchor T.H.V. Vestal took her in tow into the shelter of the Goodwins and commenced this work on the Wednesday afternoon. By nightfall the new cable and anchor were on the Light Vessel and the remains of her old cable had been removed. Both ships then stayed at anchor in order to catch up on some lost sleep.
Early on Thursday morning the wind and sea had dropped right away and the Lightship was soon back on station. She was laid slightly away from her Assigned Position in order to give room for a search by grapnel for the lost moorings.
This search continued from about 10.15 a.m. until the old cable was hooked at 3.30 p.m. During the search another lost anchor with about 90 fms. of cable attached was recovered, and also an aircraft propellor was dredged up. The anchor and cable had been on the bottom for a long time, and it would be interesting to know under what circumnstances it was lost.
Recovery of the Light Vessel’s anchor with the remnant of cable took about 2 hours hard work. When it was all on board, the Lightship was moved into her proper position, and by 6 p.m. she was finally back home, and watching over the Goodwin Sands once more, having been “absent from duty” for almost 4 days.”
Tribute from HRH Prince Henry Duke of Gloucester, the Master of Trinity House
“Now that you are back on Station I wish as Master of Trinity House to thank you and your crew for your exceptional devotion to duty which has earned the admiration of your fellow countrymen and has been a fine example to us all. The Duchess and I have shared the feelings of your families and of all the Trinity House Service during those anxious days now mercifully passed.”