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Deal Pier History

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Articles
  1. "Three Deal Piers", by Gregory Holyoake (1981)
  2. "The landing-place of Julius Cæsar in Britain", by the Reverend E. Cardwell, D.D. (1860)
  3. "Wreck fishing off the S.S. Patria", by Stanley Tooth (1910)
  4. "Floating furnace - 1899", by David Chamberlain
  5. "Photos of the Pier (1924/25)", by Paul Tooth
  6. "Mr Turner's paintings of our town", by Gregory Holyoake
  7. "Sea-fishing as a sport", by Lambton J. H. Young (1865)
  8. "The fine art of Smuggling: King's cutters vs. smugglers (1700-1855)", by E. Keble Chatterton
  9. "The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent (1800) Edward Hasted"
  10. Deal Pier Café: online resources
  11. Deal Pier Café, Architectural Review (February 2009)
  12. "Revealed: Kevin McCloud's favourite house", The Daily Telegraph (2015)
  13. "The dark side of Deal", The Guardian (2016)
  14. L.S. Lowry painting and drawing of Deal Beach to go on sale
  15. "Pier and Fishing" reports from the Deal, Walmer & Sandwich Mercury, 1903 (work in progress)
  16. "An account of the sinking of the 'Rooswijk' in 1740", by David Chamberlain
  17. "Where have all the fishing boats gone?", by David Chamberlain
  18. "Deal, Mecca of sea angling", by David Chamberlain
  19. "Deal's tackle shops in the early 1960s", by David Chamberlain
  20. "The winter of '63", by David Chamberlain
  21. "Deal and Walmer angling clubs in the early 1960s", by David Chamberlain
  22. "Deal's tackle shops in the mid 1960s", by David Chamberlain
  23. "Boating off Deal", by David Chamberlain
  24. "The 'Morning Haze' charters", by David Chamberlain
  25. "Enjoying breezy times on Deal Pier", by Judith Gaunt (2008)
  26. "The dogfish skinning contest", by David Chamberlain
  27. "The Goodwin Sands yields its secrets", by W. H. Lapthorne (1984)
  28. "Deal smuggling in Victorian times", by J. M. Bower (1987)
  29. "Beachcombing bottles", by David Chamberlain
  30. "Dispelling a myth", by David Chamberlain
  31. "A sad occasion", by David Chamberlain
  32. "The best job in the world, Part 1", by David Chamberlain
  33. "The best job in the world, Part 2", by David Chamberlain
  34. "Christmas on the Goodwins", by David Chamberlain
  35. "An unhappy Christmas", by David Chamberlain
  36. "Jack Hargreaves comes to 'Our Town'", by David Chamberlain
  37. "Swinging the Lead", by David Chamberlain
  38. Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Watchman and South Eastern Gazette archived articles from 1838 to 1962

Where have all the fishing boats gone?

by David Chamberlain

At the beginning of the 1960s, a Deal boatman's licence could be obtained from the Deal Pier Master, Captain Harris. Although there were new-builds, many of the pleasure boats were old and some had been converted from sail to motor. The skills of Deal boatmen were renowned and the only accidents that happened, in the many boats that plied for hire, were the occasional soaking to their clientele. However, in August 1966, the pleasure boat 'Dalwin' was sunk off Cornwall with the loss of 31 lives, and this would affect the way these boats were licensed from then on.


Safe and sound

The shock waves of this disaster carried throughout Britain and the Government requested that local seaside councils take another look at their responsibilities to the general public and the licensing of boatmen and their vessels. Deal Council insisted that all boatmen take took a test and received a Board of Trade certificate. These verbal tests were carried out at the old Quarter Deck building with a B.O.T examiner in charge. This licence was duly issued allowing the skipper to take afloat 250 passengers … but only three miles out to sea.

The Council also expected all boats that wished to take fare paying passengers should be seaworthy and issued a yellow plastic plaque which was screwed to the bow of the craft for the public to view. When the Board of Trade was dissolved, and new boatmen required a licence, the Council asked that the Deal & Walmer Inshore Fisherman's Association provide a test for the prospective applicants. This was carried out with the help of three full time boatmen, an observer and an officer from the Council's foreshore department. Everybody was happy and the reputation of boatmen and safety of passengers was one hundred percent. However, the three mile licence was a bone of contention. This argument was brought up at a council meeting in the Town Hall and the boatmen managed to temporarily convince the Council that they had a ten mile from land dispensation.


Coming ashore

Eventually the Government tightened the screws and insisted that the boats carried a vast amount of safety equipment onboard and a professional survey be carried out on the vessels plying for hire. The boatmen were to have a licence issued from a national governing body which would be relevant to all English ports. The argument of the Deal boatmen was that, as they operated from the beach, their crafts were smaller than those from harbours and did not have the room to stow the extra equipment and life rafts. Their needs did not come into the equation and many were priced out of making it a viable business proposition.

The many angling boats that were once a familiar sight along the beach started to disappear and, at this time of writing, there is only one plying for hire. Safety is not only paramount but, in this day and age, it is imperative. However, those halcyon days that brought many happy memories to thousands of boat anglers who had fished from Deal's piscatorial paradise … are just memories.


Fishing boats on Walmer beach

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


Deal, Mecca of sea angling

by David Chamberlain

Throughout the 1950s and 60s boat fishing festivals and competitions were always popular and well attended. Deal was well known as the 'Mecca of sea angling' and people from all over the country entered such events. At times, prospective competitors had their entrance fee refunded as there were not enough places for them in the many charter boats that plied for hire on the beach.


At the weigh-in

The festivals were always held in winter, as it was considered that this was the best time to exploit the vast shoals of cod that frequented the area. Cod did make up the majority of the catch; however, whiting, pouting and dogfish also filled the anglers' bags. The event would be run over a three day period, which included the weekend and Monday, although this was later cut down to just the Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately the weather often took a turn for the worse in those months of October and November and it was hard pushed to get the full amount of fishing days in.

For the officers and committees of the two main angling clubs - Deal (1919) AC and Deal & Walmer Angling Association - it was a busy time to cater for all those wishing to participate. Firstly, the clubs' vast number of silver cups had to be retrieved from the year before winners. These, along with the prizes, were then placed in a local shop which had a large enough window space to display the trophies. The main prize was for the greatest aggregate of sizable fish with different classes for separate species. Second and third prizes were also awarded for each class. It seemed a never ending job for the committee to get everything just right, and very few anglers realised how much work went on behind the scenes.


Boat Festival
(the author is holding a ray)

On the day of the boat festival, it was up to the club officials to consult with the boatmen on the weather prospects. If it was deemed fit, then the rowing boats would be allowed to go afloat half an hour earlier than the motor vessels. At the end of the six hour competition the anglers were allowed thirty minutes to get their catches to the weigh-in, which was usually held in the car park of the Royal Hotel or Queens Hotel just off the sea-front. All the fish had to be measured and then weighed and recorded. This procedure would take hours if a large catch was encountered; in an early 1960s boat festival over two tons of fish were caught by anglers.

The evening's prize-giving was always a grand affair. Usually, the Mayor of Deal, after a speech, would have presented the trophies to the winners. Each cup won then had to be signed for and the angler's address noted for collection the following year. Hopefully, for the angling club, everything had gone smoothly and a small profit had been attained - although the hard work that had been put in by the committee could never be evaluated financially.


Prize winners of the Deal Angling Club's (1919) fishing competition proudly hold their trophies (October 1966)
(the author is third from the right on the back row)
Fishing was not up to expectations. Centre of the front row is Mrs. Q. Peacock with a box of chocolates presented to her by Miss Ann Willis (secretary of the junior section)

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


Deal's tackle shops in the early 1960s

by David Chamberlain

Back in 1962 there were three tackle shops and two bait dealers in Deal. 'Duncan Finn's Tackle Shop' was situated at 123 High Street (now a ladies hair dresser), and yours truly used to work there as a shop assistant and occasional bait digger. Duncan Finn was a rotund, jovial ex-miner who, with his limp, I surmised was pensioned out of the pits after an accident. His selling power was to be marvelled at; he could have sold Mohamed Al Fayed a Duke of Edinburgh award. You only had to look at a rod or reel and I guarantee that you would not leave the shop until you made a purchase. If you couldn't afford it, he then had a scheme going with the Co-op where you paid a £1 down and the tally man collected the balance over a period of weeks.

'Dunc' could always be recognised in his fishing garb of thick, zip-up jumpers; normally blue and white with large fish motifs knitted in or just plain red and orange stripes. He also wore a woolly pom-pom hat to match each outfit. Lugworms used to be dug from Whitstable or Seasalter, and I can remember many mornings, before first light, trying to doze in the back of his old Bedford Dormobile as we made our way for a dig. No chance, the other diggers kept me awake or the bait forks used to fall on me as we took a corner. I soon decided that the warm shop was more my style.

Frozen bait was nonexistent and squid (cuttlefish actually) was stored in a bucket of salt along with another bucket where surplus worms were also salted. Needless to say when the salt got moist it began to pong. It was then my job to buy large blocks of coarse salt and crumble it up on top of the smelling mess. Consider what it was like sorting through that lot with cuts on your hand!

Another tackle shop was 'Terry Franks' (now a private residence) which used to be on the corner of Middle Street and Coppin Street. He had a small range of tackle; however, his main stock comprised shot guns, air rifles, air pistols and ammo. Attached to his shop door was a large bell on a spring, and after entering and the bell became silent, he would emerge from the back room with a scowl on his face. Whatever went on in his back room must have been more interesting than serving customers. He did not sell bait.


Terry Franks' old shop

'The Foc'sle'

Last, but not least was 'The Foc'sle' (now a dress shop), opposite Deal Pier. J.B. Hurd was my hero! This large imposing man had done more for angling over the years than most. When he went fishing he was always recognisable by the duffle coat and beret that he wore. His shop was allegedly established in 1909 and he was a founding member of the Deal and Walmer Angling Club and the NFSA. His stock was sparse (but top of the range) and he did not sell bait; nevertheless, it was his custom made rods and tackle that excelled. His rods were made to measure, and to possess a Jimmy Hurd rod was the ultimate in perfection. Unfortunately I could never afford to own one of his distinctive rods, and my efforts of emulation were very 'home made' as opposed to custom built.

The Willis brothers, from their house at the top of Brewer Street, specialised in selling 'yellow tails'. At 2/6 (12½p) a score they were served up in two empty bean tins (half a score to a tin) full of worms and seawater. They weren't worms - they were anacondas.

The other bait outlet was 'Tony's Bait Bar'. This was situated at the back of the Guilford Hotel, Beach Street, or, as the restaurant was known then, 'The Salad Bowl'. I could never get my head around a bait bar and restaurant combined. However, it did not worry Tony Libby and his 2/- (10p) a score Pegwell Bay worms.

So, thinking about 1962 makes my eyes mist up when I look back at myself as an 18-year-old angling fanatic. I worked in a tackle shop with an equally fishing mad boss who would leave the business to be run by his long suffering wife as we went fishing most days. Being engaged to his daughter ensured discount tackle at all times. I also owned a boat so I could diversify from Pier, beach and freshwater fishing. Two dozen peeler crabs sent up from Devon every week. I squeezed in 49 comps during that year according to my fishing diary (or as I will now refer to it as a historic angling manuscript - sounds less sad than a diary). I ended up 1919 club champion in the beach and Pier comps but with a very low number of points. So was I happy? What do you think! Put it this way, I did not have enough time to phone the Samaritans.

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


The winter of '63

by David Chamberlain

The first two days of January 1963 started with strong easterly winds. This trend was to dominate the rest of the month bringing in bitterly cold weather. Deal Pier was closing most evenings because of lack of anglers.

Folkestone Pier was the only venue that produced any fish - and they were dabs. Lugworm became hard to get and Brazils of Dover was selling 3 salted lug for 2/- (10 pence) as opposed to 2/- a score. Diggers used to get 5/- (25 pence) a hundred in those days.

On the 7th only four anglers turned up to fish the Deal Angling Club 1919 pier competition and so it was cancelled. Also cancelled was the beach competition on the 21st when only one angler turned up (OK so I was a glutton for punishment).

With the cold easterlies, snow and sea-ice, things started to wash ashore. Quite a few congers, lobsters and a porpoise were found in a frozen state. I heard that some were taken, thawed and eaten, I won't say by whom, but he's still alive and still fishes Royal Marine matches. On the 19th a mine also washed ashore at the top of Brewer Street.

There was not one fish caught on Deal Pier throughout January and the 'Fish of the Month' was a 2 oz starfish. It would not be until 13th February that the Pier staff recorded a fish being landed and the boats would not see a fish caught until March.

Tackle shops only just survived and diverted angling business by selling shotguns when some of the anglers turned to wildfowling and pigeon shooting. In those days it was easy to acquire a shot gun licence for about 10/- (50 pence) from the post office.

When the novelty of shooting wore off we decided to practice long distance casting. Duncan Finn, who had a tackle shop in the High Street, made a magnificent cast of 120 yards at Walmer Green. Duncan always said it was his technique and not brute force; however, believe me, you needed brute force to cast those rods.

The only decent production rod you could buy in those days was a 12 ft hollow glass monster made by Modern Arms of Bromley. It was mellow yellow in colour, had a fully corked handle with a chromed brass screw winch fitting. The rings were made with 'Regalox' eyes, supposedly unbreakable (strange why the tackle shop sold so many replacements), and it weighed a ton. The only way to enhance your cast was to use a Penn 150 Surfmaster, complete with 30 lb line.

So there you have it - the grimmest ever January for fishing at Deal and the local anglers.

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016

Winter of 1962-63 in the UK


Deal and Walmer angling clubs in the early 1960s

by David Chamberlain

Many years ago, the Deal 1919 AC ("1919") had its headquarters in the Boatman's Reading Rooms at Walmer - a cabin behind the Beach Parlours - and a downstairs accommodation in Stanley Road. This was before the 1919 acquired its club house on the Marina at north Deal.

I joined the 1919 in 1961 and was invited to join the Deal & Walmer Angling Association a couple of years later. In those days the principal difference between the two clubs was - anybody could join the 1919, whereas membership of the Deal & Walmer was by invitation only. For 5/- (25p) a year you could fish the 1919 competitions and participate in the many functions that the 1919 hosted.

As a 1919 committee man in 1964 my job was to run the beach and pier competitions. In those days money prizes were not allowed. To get around this "challenge", National Savings stamps used to be awarded - 10/- (50p), 7/6 (37½p), and 5/- (25p) for the first three places. Also, as an alternative, a club spoon or miniature gold (colour) fisherman on a plinth was at hand. Entry fee for each comp was 1/- (5p).

The 1919 had its own weekly angling column in the local paper, which was written by Codem, aka Bob Willis (the 1919 cup custodian). Our secretary was Malcolm (Steve) Stevenson. I still see Steve, who is 90+ years old; unfortunately, the rest of the officers and committee have long ago "cast their last". The Deal & Walmer also had a weekly fishing revue in the East Kent Mercury which was written by Spinner (the clubs secretary, Mr Hodgson).

The social highlight of the 1919 club's year was the annual dinner and dance. For a pound (£1) you could have a sit-down meal, listen to a load of boring speeches made by the mayor and other local worthies, and dance to Jock Strapp and his two swingers.

As can be seen from the image above (I am third from the left), the annual dinner dance was not my favourite function; however, as a committee man I was obliged to attend. Years later, as 1919 vice chairman, it fell to me to make a speech. This was soon curtailed after I told the joke about the young girl who swallowed a hook and did not feel a prick until she was twenty-one. You could have heard a pin drop! I was never asked to speak again.

In 1965, I opened a tackle shop in Deal - but that is another story … provisionally titled "from fork to fo'c'sle".


Match competitors and winners at the 1919 club HQ on the corner of Wollaston Road and The Strand, Walmer


1919 annual dinner dance top table (1950s)


1919 presentation (late 1960s - author second on right)

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


Deal's tackle shops in the mid 1960s

by David Chamberlain

Where was I! Oh yes, back in 1965 when I was fishing most days, earning enough to get by and not a care in the world. However, there I was being propositioned by Tony Heath (who became chairman of the Deal & Walmer Angling Association) to go into partnership by opening a tackle shop. The decision to open brought some personal pressure on me as I was engaged to the other tackle shop owner's daughter. However, my passion for angling overcame my other passions. After a couple of months stint on the cross channel ferries to earn some dosh to finance the scheme, we eventually opened 'The Angler' in King Street. It was to become my ideal job.

Trade in the shop was no different than it is nowadays - make a few bob when the weather and fish cooperate and, when they didn't, you would be lucky to see a customer.

I will always remember a new reel for which we had the exclusive rights to sell. It was called the 'Intrepid Sea Streak' or, as it was to become known, the 'Sea Squeak' from the noise it made when casting. The shop was always full of people inspecting the reel, but never purchasing one … It was only later that I found out that they were all buying them from their wife's catalogue. Nothing changes - tackle dealers now complain that mail order and the internet has destroyed their trade.

Being a tackle dealer not only put strain on my love life but also my competition fishing. Remember, in those days there were no money prizes and you had to have complete amateur status to enter comps. Well, there was this local female competitor that complained that I was a professional as I owned a tackle shop. After some debate it was decided that I could still fish. Mind you, when I won that year's two day boat festival with around 200 lb of cod it did not help my popularity!

My love of boats was soon to see me out of the shop and into another career as a charter boat skipper. My relationship had broken down with the other tackle shop's proprietor's daughter, so I got engaged to her best friend. But that's another story.


The author and Tony Heath

Behind the counter

'The Angler'

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


Boating off Deal

by David Chamberlain

A day's boat fishing off the beach at Deal and Walmer for a party of anglers would have cost £4 in 1960. Most of the boats were of around 18-20 feet in length and powered by Stuart-Turner two-stroke petrol engines. These engines were prone to failure due to the spark plugs getting wet or a too rich mixture of oil in the petrol. Either way, after a breakdown, the chore of taking out and cleaning the plugs at sea had to be undertaken before the engine would restart. All of the boats were open and cabins did not start to materialise until later.


'Harry Boy'

My first stint as a paid skipper was in 'Lardie' Dadd's boat, called the 'Pacific'. 'Lardie' was assisted by his brother Fred and they could always be found pottering from their beach hut along Walmer Parade. I never established why they called this ex-second coxswain of the lifeboat 'Lardie' but came to the conclusion that it was either the colour of his hair or that he put lard on the woods to assist the movement of the boat down the beach. In those days it was a continuous struggle to keep the older boats seaworthy, as the wear and tear to them from working the beach did them no favours. My earliest recollection was that the bilge pump was the most important part of the boat and the second most important were a set of spanners to remove spark plugs.


'Wooding up' the 'Pacific'

In the late sixties I progressed and ran the 'Harry Boy' for Bill Rolfe, who had a small fleet of boats on Deal Beach. Another memory from that time was on a snotty day when it was very rough, I queried the safety factor of going afloat. Bill explained that he would never let me go to sea in conditions that he wouldn't. However, on many foul days I felt quite lonely with Bill being ashore and me the only boat out fishing. There was never a lack of customers in those days and even after a short trip due to the anglers being seasick, more clientele could be found for the rest of the day.


One of the larger beach boats, the 'Norah'

Working off the beach had its drawbacks, especially when there was some surf alongshore. If the beach hand got it wrong and the slip chain was released a few seconds too late or too soon, then a swamping would occur. The boat would be pulled up, and drained, and another attempt would be tried. We normally gave up after the third unsuccessful effort as the prospects of spending a cold winter's day soaking wet was not appreciated. My next move was to Walmer, working for Ken Steytler with his fleet of boats, which at that time were all wooden. Pay was not wonderful with the H&S fleet and I had to rely on my expertise to find fish (or think up a good enough excuse for not) to guarantee a tip … which was sometimes almost as much as the boss paid me.


Kids' fishing trip in Ken Steytler's fleet of wooden boats

After ten years working for other boat owners, I decided to have a boat built to my specifications in 1974, but that's another story.

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


The 'Morning Haze' Charters

by David Chamberlain

After four years of marriage I realised that I needed to provide a steady income from my efforts. By 1974 I had decided to have a boat built to my specifications. In those days diesel engines were an established item to have in a boat as they were more reliable. The boat and engine cost under £3,000 and my first 45 gallon drum of red diesel £3.15s (£3.75). The 27 foot 'Morning Haze' - named after my wife Hazel - was pushed onto my beach plot at Walmer in October 1975. At the time of launching, my wife was six months pregnant so I knew I had to make a go of my new venture. My price for a day's fishing with 6 anglers was £15.


Delivery of my new boat (I'm on the winch wearing loons)

Initially she had some teething problems (the boat, not the wife) which needed sorting out. Tongue-in-cheek, this would take thirty years and I now realised why I got paid a low wage as a jobbing skipper. To own a boat is an expense that is never ending. Maintaining a boat is essential, as not only my life was dependent on it but also my passengers' lives as well. Fortunately, I and my clients survived without any mishaps and the boat served me well for 30 years and her working life.


'Morning Haze' on the beach in 1976

It was not long before I realised that the numerous shipwrecks that are abundant in the area held plenty of fish in the summer months. The reason for this was that crustaceans inhabited the wreck which the small fish ate and then the big fish would feed on them. The only problem was locating the wrecks without the electronic equipment that is around nowadays. Over the years I had compiled a note book which was full of land marks for some of these wrecks. Unfortunately if the weather was a bit hazy it would be difficult, if not impossible, to line up the marks. Echo sounders were installed and it would be possible to know what was underneath the keel and not put an expensive anchor into Davey Jones' locker forever. Without too many mishaps I had lining-up and anchoring to fish the wrecks down to a fine art. The problem in those days was that most of the shipwrecks were in the shipping lane. Therefore, after all the rigmarole of setting it all up, a ship would bear down on a collision course. The anchor had to be hastily hauled, and when the ship had passed the whole thing done over again.


A catch of cod and pollack from a wreck just over a mile from shore

On and around the Goodwin Sands are a multitude of shipwrecks, and through fishing some of these I became interested in their histories. My curiosity soon became an obsession and I learnt to dive and explore a few of them. I was also fortunate enough to be included in a number of archaeological projects to these shipwrecks by taking divers out to them in the Morning Haze.

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


The dogfish skinning contest

by David Chamberlain

Dogfish come in many colours and sizes. Basically they are shark-shape, however, some have with spots and some are just shark-coloured. They have no natural enemies apart from man. Their rough skin needs to be removed before its flesh is visible and can be cooked. This is not a popular job with anglers and 'dogs' are in general discarded after being caught. Nevertheless they are a tasty meal and worth the effort.


A lively bull huss

In the shops, after being skinned, they are known as rock salmon, huss and rigg. In the fish and chip shops it is normally spurdogs that are battered and sold as rigg. Spurdogs were, at one time, very prolific off Deal for a couple of weeks at the end of April every year. The shoals would sweep through the Goodwins and eat everything in their way. Anglers enjoyed catching them for the sport and size, as many would be in double figure weight - and their sheer numbers could result in over a hundred being caught in a day. When I was confronted with this amount to skin for the anglers I learned fast how to get the job done quickly.


Plenty of spurdogs waiting to be skinned

Many years ago fellow skipper, Allan Booth, owner of the Ramsgate-based charter boat Bonaventure II, came around for a couple of beers. On the sink unit in the kitchen were two un-skinned dogfish that I had brought home to eat. The wife was going out for the evening and made me promise that I would not make mess of her kitchen. A couple of beers turned into a session and, as skippers do, we started to swing the lantern. A friendly argument arose on who was the better boatman and who was the most professional with a filleting knife. Therefore, to decide who was the best man, a dogfish skinning contest began. My timed attempt was 28 seconds although I did have a problem when its head parted from its body. Nevertheless, this was the winning time with Allan three seconds behind me. By this time, all of the beers had been consumed and the task of cleaning up the kitchen had to be attempted before the wife came home. Between us, I thought that we did a splendid job. Not a bit of mess could be seen. However, when Hazel entered the kitchen, she went berserk. Bewildered we asked what was wrong, the sink unit was spotless. It was then, she pointed to the ceiling. There was a red streak of blood and guts hanging above the sink. Needless to say, I blamed Allan.


Two greater spotted dogfish

The moral of the story is, make sure the head stays on the dogfish when you skin it! Also over the years I have now got arthritis in both thumbs and shoulder … because of the thousands of dogs I've had to skin in the past!


A large Goodwins spurdog

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


The best job in the world … Part 1

by David Chamberlain

"You've got the best job in the world, skipper". How many times have I heard that said over the years I had been chartering and it was normally on a nice calm sunny day. Well, maybe it was for the first 30 years, but it got harder as I got older. Getting a three ton boat up and down a beach which changed shape with every tide can be soul destroying. One of the most important pieces of equipment a boatman possessed was a shovel. Each and every day, the beach had to be trimmed to enable the boat to slide on the woods without too much pushing.

On bad days or after a storm the beach would have to be manually ploughed. With the help of a winch, the beach was pulled up into shape with a wooden and steel contraption that would hold a quantity of pebbles to pile into the contours and ridges that the waves had made. It was fairly easy on the way up, but not on the way down, as you were not only pulling the plough but also the heavy gauge winch wire. Sometimes this job would take hours to complete … but it had to be done before the boat could go afloat. All of the woods that helped the boat slide down the beach would have to be oiled or greased and then laid in place. Clean overalls would soon be soiled with oil. Eventually the boat would be afloat and then the skipper would endeavour to find the fish to keep the customers happy. Tide and weather conditions would need to be taken into consideration.

The saying 'you are only as good as your last full fish box' comes to mind when you are trying to impress the anglers and get a future booking. Glum faces after a bad day's charter can be felt by the skipper, even with his back to them at the helm of his boat. Some days the fish did not want to bite and no matter how hard you tried it was not going to happen. I remember a day where the weather turned foul and the wind had increased. The rain was continuous and there were no fish to be had. Almost all the anglers were seasick and thoroughly miserable. Just before the end of the trip one of the bedraggled anglers entered the wheelhouse and asked me for a business card. In disbelief, I gave it to him and could not help but ask why the hell he wanted it as there was no way this poor chap would ever go out in a boat again after this disastrous trip. As he pocketed the card he said "If I ever feel depressed or suicidal, I will look at this card and know I can never feel as bad as I do now".


Deal boatman Dave Lawrence ploughing the beach

Laying the woods

Pushing the boat out

Moving three tons of boat

To be continued …

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


The best job in the world … Part 2

by David Chamberlain

Every evening the weather forecast had to be studied and interpreted. I could never understand why they did not give a more detailed prediction for this part of the coast as it incorporated Dover, one of the busiest ports in the world. Many thousands of cross Channel passengers would have benefitted from the knowledge, and the sale of seasick pills would have doubled. Most nights at 7pm the phone would ring and the anglers would enquire about the prospects of getting afloat the next day. As most sea anglers live far from the sea, the onus of bringing them down on a wasted journey was placed firmly on my judgment. Working off the beach is not as easy as from a harbour. For a start, the boats are usually smaller and the state of surf alongshore is always a governing factor. Many days' wages have been lost by taking the forecasters word as gospel. However, their excuse was what the wind and weather would probably be like, as their job was to merely predict and not guarantee. In this day and age of technology I had hoped for better results. My blood pressure went up a notch after looking at a flat calm sea when I had cancelled the booking the night before after an adverse forecast.

This might paint a picture of doom and gloom of the job which has sent some of us into the abuse of alcohol. Nevertheless, there are days when it is calm, sunny and peaceful and the fish are biting. At the end of the day, the happy faces of the angling party are reflected in the size of tip that is given after all the fish have been gutted and a quick beer in the local before going home. Getting a telephone call from those anglers in the evening telling me what a fine fellow I am and then making another ten bookings for future fishing trips … life, at such times, didn't get any better.

So there you have it, no regrets over the years and I have been fortunate enough to have earned a full time living from my trade; however, it is not the best job in the world … although it's the best job to be able to have a moan about!


A wet landing

Rough seas

Stormy weather

Too cold to go

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


Christmas on the Goodwins

by David Chamberlain

In the past there were five Lightvessels standing guard over the Goodwin Sands. Life on the Goodwin Lightvessels was mainly a routine that appropriated certain types of men. Being at sea for a month was not everybody's idea of a perfect job; however, for many ex deep-sea fishermen and deep-sea mariners it was a suitable way to make a living. An ability to get along with your fellow crewmates was also an essential qualification.


A lightship has guarded the Goodwin Sands since the 1700s

The six crewmembers were answerable to the master, who was in turn accountable to Trinity House if things went wrong. The lightvessel had to be manned 24 hours of the day, every day; and a good lookout was always necessary in foul weather conditions that often occurred in and around the Goodwin Sands. Although the crew were paid extra in their pay packets for the days when the incessant foghorn blared out they soon got used to the noise - and few bothered using the earplugs that were issued.


The crew of the lightship

South Goodwin lightship before she was replaced by a buoy

Another dilemma was the weather. Storms would make the lightvessel not only roll but also pitch in a 'heel and toe' motion. Nevertheless, the men had faith in the four-ton mushroom anchor that held the ship on station and the 600,000 candlepower light that warned approaching ships of the dangers of the Sands. In their spare time they would often fish off the stern of the vessel to supplement their victuals that each man had to supply himself. The galley and quarters were spotless and every brass part on the lightship was polished to a shine … the men took pride in their vocation.

Christmas was a time of celebration ashore; however, for the sentinels of the Goodwin Sands it would be another working day. The disappointment of having to spend Christmas afloat was dulled by the kindness from the population of the surrounding towns, who realised the hardships that these men had to endure to safeguard shipping. Many extra food parcels and gifts were collected along with a Christmas tree and a large turkey for distribution to the seven sailors.

Even the angling clubs contributed with Deal Angling Club (1919) adopting the East Goodwin lightvessel as their chosen one; Kingsdown Angling Club went for the South Goodwin, as it was closer to the club. When the weather was calm the boatmen managed to take their boats out and delivered the presents alongside the lightvessel. However, that close to Christmas the sea was normally too rough for them to undertake the trip. It was then left up to the lifeboat to make the journey with a few selected guests.


Christmas gifts from the Deal boatmen

Eventually, and with technology, the Lightvessels became unmanned and were replaced by large buoys that marked the dangerous sandbank. The South Goodwin was towed away on the 26th of July 2006 and of the original five ships there is only one left on watch, the East Goodwin Lightvessel. She can be seen seven nautical miles from Deal Pier flashing a single beam of light every 15 seconds which can be seen for 26 miles.

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


An unhappy Christmas

by David Chamberlain

On Christmas Eve, 1946, the skyline east of Deal was to be blighted by the sight of a shipwreck which would remain for almost fifty years. In foggy conditions the 7,612 ton 'North Eastern Victory' raced up Channel to enable the skipper and crew to spend Christmas at her port of destination, Antwerp.

Captain Kohstrohs either did not hear, or ignored, the warning cannons being fired from the South Goodwin lightship as they hurtled past. The Victory ship's 6,000 horse power engine was at full speed and this, coupled with the assistance of a spring tide, was propelling the vessel at a speed of 21 knots.

Kohstrohs' charts of the area did not disclose the dangers from the Goodwin Sands and the American War Administration felt the use of pilots a wasteful cost. Within five miles of passing the lightship the 'North Eastern Victory' came to an abrupt standstill as she ran onto the Sands. The force of the grounding carried away her radio aerials making communication useless … and in the swirling fog her master realised it would have been pointless to set off flares.


The Goodwins soon devoured the wreck

Luckily the ever-alert Deal boatmen realised that the South Goodwin Lightship's warning cannon fire meant that there could be a chance of trouble. It was left to old Joe Mercer, in the beach boat 'Rose Marie', to go and investigate. An hour later he came up against the slab-sided hull of the Victory ship high and dry on the Goodwins. Joe realised that the vessel was doomed and informed Captain Kohstrohs that he would summon the lifeboat.


Walmer lifeboat launches in the fog

At five minutes past five that afternoon the 'Charles Dibden' launched in darkness into a calm sea. Coxswain Freddie Upton soon found the casualty and took off 36 of her crew. Only the captain and six officers stayed aboard the stricken hulk. As he left, Upton noticed a two foot gash had already appeared across the deck of the fated ship. By 10 o'clock that night the lifeboat had offloaded her human cargo and had returned to the shipwreck.


Five miles east of Deal Pier

As the wind freshened, the men spent an uncomfortable night on the lifeboat which was standing by the wreck. Their only consolation, apart from a ration of rum, was some turkey that had been prepared in the 'North Eastern Victory's' galley. Christmas Day was greeted with a blood red sky. True to the weather saying of 'Shepherds warning' the Charles Dibden's radio came to life with a gale warning from the Coast Guard. After a brief discussion with the cargo vessels captain, Freddie convinced them it was time to leave.


The masts were visible for almost 50 years

Over the years the masts of the North Eastern Victory could be seen from the beaches of Deal as a prominent reminder of the dangers of the Goodwins. In January 1995 the remaining rusting mast disappeared in the aftermath of a winter's storm. Fondly known as the 'Sticks' to the Deal boatmen, it was yet another part of Deal maritime history to fade away.

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


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