Sandbound: Visiting a shipwreck

We stood around the local pond: four children, hopping from foot to foot with excitement, and their dad.

This was a Red Letter Moment. My father had been given a kit to make a large and substantial remote-controlled battleship. An engineer to his fingertips, it was with boundless meticulous focus that he spent hours glueing the model together: and now it was time to test the craft’s mettle at Jeanses Pond.

He switched it on. The boat whirred into action, its little propellers flailing the air in pointless but heartening efficiency.

He laid it into the water and we watched in growing horror as it sailed bravely out about two metres and then disappeared gracefully under the water like a submarine.

Jeanses Pond is not the sort of pond you wade in to rescue such things. Quite apart from the quaggy bottom, steep sides and clinging weed, there is a pike with very big teeth in there.

And so the little procession of father and children trailed disconsolately home.

This happens more often than you think to really big boats. Take the Vasa: an extravagant piece of Swedish battle-play, a boat built to vanquish Sweden’s enemies in the country’s war with Poland-Lithuania in the 1620s.

Beautifully crafted, the Vasa was known far and wide as one of the most heavily armed boats of its era. King Gustavus Adolphus liked it immensely as it made him look virtually invincible. It had two full gun decks – not the customary one – and these were stuffed with very heavy bronze cannons.

Alas: the king wanted so desperately to show off, and none of his subordinates had quite the courage to tell him that the upper sections of the hull were dangerously stuffed and making the ship unstable.

The ship sailed as the king had asked: for about 1,300 metres before a slight breeze did its worst, and the vessel capsized, taking untold treasure down beneath the waves and 15 people to their deaths.

It is a little known fact that UNESCO – alias the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – keeps a weather eye on all the shipwrecks in all the world.

Of course, it would be impossible to know, to the last timber, how many ships have sunk to the bottom of the sea, but UNESCO say it’s round about the three million mark. And not all of these were caused by storm or mishap. Some were simply scuppered because no-one could think of anything better to do with an old boat at sea.

It is not long since we were last thinking of shipwrecks: and I have been conniving to see the wreck of a very singular one. You can read its story here: The Amsterdam was a merchant ship which had left the Netherlands bound for Java, but was first hit by illness and then foundered in a storm. It came to rest off the Sussex coast at Bulverhythe, where I happened to be running only yesterday morning.

It is sunk neatly in the sand, its midriff exposed at very low tides for all to see, the carpentry still intact, and yesterday immediately after the spectacular light of the super moon it was lit by a rose dawn.

And standing there, it became clear that every shipwreck has its enchantment. It was impossible to imagine its neat form, that proud prow, housing 300 people or more. But house them it did, and it was centrepiece to an epic tale of shipwreck some 266 years ago.

Now it forms a calm sandy boat-shaped lagoon which reflects light and the past in equal measure, to the sound of the waves and the crying of gulls.


16 thoughts on “Sandbound: Visiting a shipwreck

  1. 3 million. Wow. I remember hearing the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a song by Gordon Lightfoot. I was just a child, and we lived by the Great Lakes, where the ship sank. It left a horror of shipwrecks in me.

  2. Didn’t you ever salvage your dad’s battleship? You don’t even tell us whether it was one of ours or one of theirs Theirs being Jerry’s naturally. I must admit I’m more fascinated by your poor dads lost work than these old wrecks which are much like me I suspect πŸ˜€ πŸ™„

    1. Brian, I think it was one of ours though I wouldn’t know the difference.. we did not return to the scene of crime to retrieve the boat. To this day it sits on the floor of Jeanses Pond, a tiny shipwreck, and if ever we pass the site walking the dog we’ll say to each other: “Do you remember….?”

      1. If your dad is of my generation then the likely hood of the “HOOD” is the best bet, if he’s of the next lot down post WWII then I’d imagine the “VANGUARD” the last RN battleship/white elephant.
        I do of course recognize your family’s actions in not attempting salvage of one of His Majesty’s ships as bordering on an act of sabotage if it is indeed the “HOOD”! πŸ˜‰

  3. Love the interweaving of all these stories; and was also struck by the photo where the wreck looks like nothing so much as a prehistoric creature’s lower jaw, replete with teeth.

  4. What a sad tale! (The first one.) If that had happened to me, woe betide any pike getting between me and rescue!
    Shipwrecks are certainly fascinating, and the weirdest I have ever seen are some of the ones that have apparently sailed inland for some distances off the Skeleton Coast. The land reclaiming some coastline results in these ending up high and dry hundreds of metres away from the sea.

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