"The Shyppe Swallower"
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|"Straight out seawards and eastwards of the
old quaint town of Deal lie the Goodwin Sands, basking in the sun like some
marine monster whose giant snout is just awash towards the north, and only
now and then emerges out of the sea to sieze with hungry jaws its prey of
men and ships, with huge feelers and claws reaching from its broad waist
landwards towards Deal, while the tail of this grisly terror coils itself
away to the southward, full many a mile of sea." (Treanor)
The Goodwin Sands lie about 6 miles off the east coast of Kent, between Kingsdown in the south and Ramsgate in the north, a distance of over 10 miles from South Sand Head to North Sand Head, and are about 31/2 miles in breadth from Bunt Head in the east to the Barrier Edge in the west.
"If there are many places far more celebrated, it is quite certain that there are few more dreaded by all those 'who go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters,' than the famous Goodwin Sands." (Gattie)
Known as the "shyppe swallower" because of their well-deserved reputation for "swallowing up" many hundreds of ships, driven onto the sands in rough weather over the centuries, the Goodwin Sands are also responsible for the (relatively) safe anchorage known as "The Downs".
".. enormous wealth which formed the cargoes of thousands of ships of all nations which have been, during the last eight hundred years, engulfed in these treacherous Sands, and which probably lies buried there still, -
A thousand fearful wrecks,
|Some historians put forward the theory that the
sands were once fertile and habitable and part of the lands of Earl Godwin,
councillor and friend of Edward the Confessor, which were overcome by the
sea in A.D. 1099.
Others suggest that the sand banks were formed by the action of tides and currents coming together at the mouth of the English Channel.
Whichever theory you believe, the Goodwin Sands have for centuries been feared by sailors of all nations who had occasion to navigate the Straits of Dover between the North Sea (sometimes called the German Sea) and the English Channel (called by the French La Manche - the Sleeve).
At low tide, a large part of the Sands is uncovered and becomes firm and dry. Rev. Mackenzie Walcott, in a work on the "Coast of Kent", described them thus:
"At low tides a walk along these melancholy dunes, when the channel is bare of ships and presents only a boundless expanse, will inspire solemn thought, reverent awe, and silent devotion; the voiceless lips of the shells which the foot buries tell of mighty changes and centuries gone by. All is still as beneath the roof of a cathedral, and the breeze grows mellowed, softer, sadder, as it mingles with the fall of the breakers."
Rev. John Gilmore referred to the numerous souls lost on the Sands:
"when the graves give up their dead few churchyards will render such
an account as theirs, not only as to the number of the dead, but also that
the Sands are a battlefield which entombs the brave and the strong, who go
down quick to their grave, quick from the full tide of life and strength,
from the eager, stern, deadly contest which, to the last, all their strong
energies are fully engaged."