On my way I met a boatman, a valued comrade on many a rough day in the mission-boat. Breathless with haste, he could at first only say, 'Come on, sir, quick! Come on; there's a man been seen running to and fro on the Goodwins! Seeing that immediate help was needed, it appeared that the coxswain of the lifeboat proposed signalling a passing tug-boat, and wanted my sanction for the measure.
They thus jettisoned about two hundred tons of iron sleepers working at this job till midnight and threw it over the right or starboard side of the ship, where it lay in a great mass. It was never recovered, though every effort was afterwards made to save it. It had been engulfed and disappeared in the Goodwins' capacious maw.
There were three vessels on the Goodwins: the fate of one is uncertain; another was a small vessel painted white, supposed to be a Dane, and she suddenly disappeared before my eyes, being probably lost with all hands; the third was a German barque, the Leda, homeward bound to Hamburg, with a crew of seventeen 'all told. This ill-fated vessel while flying on the wings of the favouring sou'-westerly gale, supposed by the too partial poet to be
Hull and decks were of seasoned English oak, and masts of straight Scots pine. The Knight of Sherborne had found her building in Plymouth dockyard, and had tempted her would-be owner to part with her for a price he could not resist. Captain John Drake had tested her in the Channel from the Goodwins round to Lundy in fair weather and in foul, and had found no fault in her.
The whole of the Goodwin Sands are covered by the sea at high water; even the highest or north part of the Sands is then eight or ten feet under water. At low water this north part of the Goodwins is six feet at least above the sea level, and you can walk for miles on a rippled surface cut into curious gulleys, the miniatures of the larger swatches. Wild and lonely beyond words is the scene.
In the boiling surf which raged alongside, the boat was upset in an instant, and with the exception of one Lascar, who grasped a chain-plate, all were lost, their drowning shrieks being only faintly heard as they were swept into the caldron of the Goodwins to leeward. There can be no doubt that a merciful insensibility came soon to their relief.
She struck the Goodwins bows on with her head to the south-east, and she heeled over to starboard, the sea which rolled from the E.N.E. beating nearly on her port broadside. The wrecked crew knew their position, and that their only chance was the advent of some lifeboat, and they burned flares, which consisted on this occasion of their own clothes, which they tore off and soaked in oil.
Deep, too, in the bosom of the Goodwins, masts alone projecting, is settling down the Hazelbank, wrecked there in October, 1890; but this southern part at lowest tide is barely uncovered by the sea, and only just awash. At high water the depth is about three fathoms, varying of course in patches, over this southern part or tail of the sea-monster.
J. Mackins, the coxswain of the Walmer lifeboat, was also seized by pneumonia after a splendid service across the Goodwins, when his lifeboat was buried thirty times in raging seas; S. Pearson, once coxswain of the Walmer lifeboat, died of Bright's disease, the result of exposure; and on the occasion of the rescue of the Ganges, one of the crew, R. Betts, had his little finger torn off.
Alas! many similar disasters take place on the Goodwins, the details of which are covered by the black and stormy nights on which they occur, and nothing is ever found to reveal the awful secret but, perhaps, a few fishermen's nets and buoys, or a mast, or a ship's boat.