The place where 1000 ships were sunk

Source: BBC

By Fiona Young-Brown

Six miles off the coast of Deal in East Kent, England, seal pups frolic on the ever-changing, intricately-patterned sands that are exposed at low tide. Beneath the water’s surface is a thriving ecosystem of blue mussels, sand eels and peeler crabs.

These are the Goodwin Sands, a 10-mile stretch of sandbank that has been recommended by the Wildlife Trusts as a future Marine Conservation Zone. In addition to providing a home for a wide variety of sea life, the Sands help bolster coastal protection against erosion.

But they may disappear. The Dover Harbour Board wants to dredge 2.5 million tons from the Goodwin Sands as part of plans to expand the port – one of Europe’s busiest – and provide much-needed regeneration to Dover’s seafront.

It’s the land of mysterious monsters lurking beneath glistening waters, soaring mountains a hundred shades of purple with heather, and not forgetting those craggy castles and enticing pubs.


There are plans underway to expand the port at Dover Harbour

There are plans underway to expand the port at Dover Harbour, shown here, with material from the Goodwin Sands (Credit: Commission Air/Alamy)

However, the board has met resistance. Some of that is due to environmental factors. But there is another reason, too: the Goodwin Sands are home to Britain’s largest underwater graveyard.

Hidden just beneath the water’s surface at high tide, the Sands are one of the most dangerous spots in the English Channel. During storms they can be particularly deadly.

The Goodwin Sands are home to Britain’s largest underwater graveyard

In late November 1703, when southern Britain saw the worst natural disaster in its history, a massive cyclone now known as the Great Storm, more than 1,000 seamen died on the Goodwin Sands.

Among the many ships lost that night was the HMS Stirling Castle, which was discovered by local divers in 1979. Since 1980, it has been a designated protected wreck under the 1973 Protection of Wrecks Act – meaning access to it is restricted in order to prevent vandalism and salvage operations.

Storm looming over the coast of Deal

During storms – like this one looming over the coast at Deal – the Goodwin Sands can be particularly deadly (Credit: Loop Images Ltd/Alamy)

A century later, on 24 January 1809, the East India Company ship the Admiral Gardner departed from London bound for Madras. It carried a cargo of iron, guns, anchors, and 48 tons of company coins – currency for the workers in India.

As the ship passed the coast of Kent, a fierce gale blew in. It ran aground on the Goodwin Sands along with two other East India ships that same night. Efforts to save the ship were futile, although somewhat miraculously, only one life was lost.

These three East India Company ships, as well as the HMS Stirling Castle, are just a few of more than 1,000 shipwrecks buried beneath the Goodwin Sands. Some believe the number of wrecks may be as high as 2,000.

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