Heroes of the Goodwin Sands

The first sample below is the preface of the book Heroes of the Goodwin Sands, published in 1904 and written by the Reverend Thomas Stanley Treanor, chaplain to the Missions to Seamen, Deal and the Downs. The book itself can be read online or downloaded in various formats here.

‘For twenty-six years, as Missions to Seamen Chaplain for the Downs, the writer of the following chapters has seen much of the Deal boatmen, both ashore and in their daily perilous life afloat. For twenty-three years he has also been the Honorary Secretary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for the Goodwin Sands and Downs Branch; he has sometimes been afloat in the lifeboats at night and in storm, and he has come into official contact with the boatmen in their lifeboat work, in the three lifeboats stationed right opposite the Goodwin Sands, at Deal, Walmer, and Kingsdown. With these opportunities of observation, he has written accurate accounts of a few of the splendid rescues effected on those out-lying and dangerous sands by the boatmen he knows so well.

‘Each case is authenticated by names and dates; the position of the wrecked vessel is given with exactness, and the handling and manoeuvring of the lifeboat described, from a sailor’s point of view, with accuracy, even in details.

‘The descriptions of the sea—of Nature in some of her most tremendous aspects, of the breakers on the Goodwins—and of the stubborn courage of the men who man our lifeboats are far below the reality. Each incident occurred as it is related, and is absolutely true.

‘The Deal boatmen are almost as mute as the fishes of the sea respecting their own deeds of daring and of mercy on the Goodwin Sands. It is but justice to those humble heroes of the Kentish coast that an attempt should be made to tell some parts of their wondrous story.’

And from the first chapter:

‘The Goodwin Sands are a great sandbank, eight miles long and about four miles wide, rising out of deep water four miles off Deal at their nearest point to the mainland. They run lengthwise from north to south, and their breadth is measured from east to west. Counting from the farthest points of shallow water around the Goodwins, their dimensions might be reckoned a little more, but the above is sufficiently accurate.

‘Between them and Deal lies thus a stretch of four miles of deep water, in which there is a great anchorage for shipping. This anchorage, of historic interest, is called the Downs—possibly from the French les Dunes, or ‘the Sands,’ a derivation which, so far as I know, was first suggested by myself—and is sheltered from the easterly gales to some extent by the Goodwins.

‘The Downs are open to the north and south, and through this anchorage of the Downs runs the outward and homeward bound stream of shipping of all nations, to and from London and the northern ports of England, Holland, Germany, and the Baltic.

‘A very large proportion of the stream of shipping bound to London passes inside the Goodwins or through the Downs, especially when the wind is south-west, inasmuch as if they went in west winds outside the Goodwins, they would find themselves a long way to leeward of the Gull buoy.

‘The passage here, between the Gull buoy and the Goodwin Sands, is not more than two miles wide; and again I venture to suggest that the Gull stream is derived from the French la Gueule.

‘Though there are four miles of deep water between the Goodwin Sands and the mainland, this deep water has rocky shallows and dangerous patches in it, but I shall not attempt to describe them, merely endeavouring to concentrate the reader’s attention on the Goodwin Sands. Inside the Goodwins and in this comparatively sheltered anchorage of deep water, the outward bound shipping bring up, waiting sometimes for weeks for fair wind; hence Gay’s lines are strictly accurate,

All in the Downs the fleet was moored.

‘The anchorage of the Downs is sheltered from west winds by the mainland and from east winds by the dreaded Goodwins. They thus form a natural and useful breakwater towards the east, creating the anchorage of the Downs.

‘In an easterly gale, notwithstanding the protection of the Goodwins, there is a very heavy and even tremendous sea in the Downs, for the Goodwin Sands lie low in the water, and when they are covered by the tide—as they always are at high water—the protection they afford is much diminished.

‘The ”sheltered” anchorage of the Downs is thus a relative term. Even in this shelter vessels are sometimes blown away from their anchors both by easterly and westerly winds.’

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