THE SAYING " WORSE THINGS HAPPEN AT SEA"

In the year 1703 [incidentally the Portsmouth Main Dockyard Gates were erected in 1711 at 12 foot wide and stood there for 232 years until 1943, when they were widened to 22 feet, and the first man to become a famous admiral to see them, who joined the navy one year later in 1712, was Admiral Anson] there occurred a storm of such tremendous violence that it is recorded as being the greatest and most destructive ever known in the history of the British Isles.  The damage was on an almost cosmic scale – like some gigantic air raid – and it gained the title “The Great Storm”.  On land the effects were appalling and at sea they were disastrous.  The fact they were worse at sea brought about the saying “Worse things happen at sea”.  Over 10,000 seamen were lost, a third of which were men of the Royal Navy.  The fury of the storm was concentrated into a few hours between midnight and dawn of the 26th and 27th November.  Before its dreadful climax, the storm had been blowing for a fortnight and anchorages were packed with shipping.  In the Downs, besides hundreds of merchant vessels there were a number of warships, including the Channel Squadron, some 13 ships, commanded by Rear Admiral Sir Basil Beaumont of The Blue. The storm raged throughout the Downs and after its passing, the Squadron, which before had been safe in its moorings, was gone.  In the worst disaster ever experienced by the Royal Navy in home waters, an entire fleet was lost, when one vessel after another drove ashore on the Goodwins or foundered along the coast.  Four of the larger ships lost on the Goodwins were the flagship MARY, of 60 guns and 272 men; RESTORATION with 386 men; NORTHUMBERLAND with 253 men, and STIRLING CASTLE with 349 men, all of 70 guns. Of  the first vessel there was one survivor, from the second and third, none, and from the last, seventy.

In the few tides the ships were swallowed by the sands –  *the Scylla  and Charybdis of the English Channel* - which for centuries have been the graveyard of shipping.

*refers to the Goodwin Sands, and, in Greek mythology, Scylla was a monster and Charybdis was a whirpool, two dangers or extremes such that one can be avoided only by approaching the other*

It is believed the terrible storm of the 11th January 1978, which destroyed Margate Pier, also shifted the sand covering the wrecks.  In June 1979 the Thanet unit team of divers were carrying out exploration work in the dangerous waters above the Goodwins and found HMS STIRLING CASTLE.  From then on it was a race against time in case the wreck should again be covered by sand.

Among the impressive array of 300 salvaged artefacts, in perfect preservation is a fine bronze cannon of Dutch manufacture dated 1642 and weighing half a ton; a large bell; a ship’s kettle – the first ever found, and many valuable nautical instruments.  A more macabre find was a gilt candlestick with a skeletal hand still clutching it.