Mi Amigo on the Long Sand
In the Daily Telegraph of 26th May 1990 we are told:
'The Independent Broadcasting Authority is facing the threat of legal action from one of its own local radio stations, which has been caught up in a battle of the airwaves to silence the offshore station Radio Caroline.' It appears that the Spectrum Radio station had been assigned the same frequency occupied by Radio Caroline-558 on medium wave - and was consequently drowned out by Caroline's powerful level of transmission. Silencing Radio Caroline is not an easy task it seems. But it has happened twice - for two very short periods. Craig Seton, writing in The Times of 21st March 1980, put it very neatly:
'Radio Caroline, the original offshore radio ship, sank off the Essex coast yesterday, silenced by the heavy seas that were the only threat to its existence since it was outlawed by the British and Dutch governments in the late 1960s.'
This was not the first time the lifeboat was called out to save lives from the Mi Amigo, the old Dutch coaster which had been specially converted to a radio station, with a lofty mast for its transmitter making it instantly recognizable. Fourteen years previously, on 19th January 1966, a vicious, snow-laden wind hit the radio ship so hard that it broke from its moorings and ended up on the beach near Chevaux de Frise Point at Great Holland. The lifeboat service's inspector reported on the incident, concluding, 'the coxswain and his crew showed courage, determination
and skill in boarding the lifeboat in conditions of wind, sea and bitter cold which were the worst known for many years at this most exposed station.' The lifeboat could not itself make the rescue but had to stand by while the Mi Amigo's men were brought ashore by the line rigged by the team operating the Life Saving Apparatus, better known as the breeches buoy.
It was not long before cheeky Radio Caroline was in position once again, 13 miles off the Essex coast east of Southend, because it was necessary to station the Mi Amigo outside the territorial waters of the United
Kingdom to avoid prosecution. Fourteen years after it was blown ashore the ship and the station were being run by a crew of just four men who, on the fateful Thursday, 20th March 1980, included two men of East Anglian origin. One was Timothy Lewis from Snape, Suffolk and the other was Nigel Tibbles from Rayleigh, Essex. They may have been men of the modern age of pop-songs and soft-living but they certainly showed their mettle when, for the second time, Radio Caroline went aground.
On this Thursday a gale sprang up; it became a storm that blew the Mi Amigo, anchor; cable and all off its mooring and on to the notorious Long Sand to the northeast - graveyard of so many ships. Here the anchor caught and held. The crew had to report their new position, but they did not really appreciate what danger they were in. The Coastguard did. They alerted the Sheerness lifeboat station and the Helen Turnbill, having just returned from a rough weather exercise, had hurriedly to turn out again for the real thing.
Out it went at full speed into the teeth of a force nine gale. The sea was so rough with short steep seas that the lifeboat was like a boxer taking a series of thumping jabs on the chin. Speed had to be reduced because the boat was shipping so much water. Through the Oaze Deep, into the Black Deep, and then, from the crest of a mighty wave the Mi Amigo was spotted lying on the Long Sand with the receding tide leaving it in only a few feet of water. Radio contact was made, help was offered, but these unusual sons of the sea and the air waves said they did not need immediate help as they were even then trying to get the pumps working in the hope that they would get off the sand as the tide rose.
They did not have the lifeboatmen's long experience of what could happen to a vessel on the Long Sand in such heavy seas. The lifeboat came up close to the stern of the
Mi Amigo and kept station there as both vessels were pitched and tossed about by the rollers sweeping across the sands. The coxswain told the Caroline crew, sweating still over the pumps, that they would be in serious trouble, not to say danger to life, if their ship sank in the rapidly rising tide. It became obvious to the Caroline boys that the pumps were not going to cope with the inrush of water into the badly leaking vessel. They accepted the offer of a lift shorewards from the lifeboat.
The Helen Turnbill then fell further astern of the Mi Amigo to assess the best way of getting near enough to take off the crew. The coxswain spotted that on the starboard side of the stricken ship there were rubber tyres suspended to act as fenders for supply ships. So he chose that side to make his approach and asked his men to judge their course and speed so that they would come alongside at the precise moment between the crests of two racing waves. It was a rescue fraught with immense danger because one error in the fine judgment of helmsman or engineer could lead to the lifeboat being smashed down on the Mi Amigo's deck.
Patience and seamanship were the order of the day. Three times the Helen Turnbill attempted to run in but had to break it off. At the fourth attempt one man was grabbed before yet another wave crashed down on the deck. Round went the lifeboat in those awful seas, to approach the Mi Amigo five more times and come away at last with the second man. It was as they were about to pull away at full speed that the third man started running down the deck, carrying a bird in a cage. The lifeboat throttled back, the man jumped to safety, and a great wave lifted the lifeboat and slammed it against the ship's side. It took four more dangerous passes at the stricken vessel, now being overwhelmed by the waves, before the last disc jockey could be pulled to safety from the stanchion to which he
had been clinging for dear life. The very next wave lifted the Mi Amigo high, and it seemed to give a great sigh as it slipped down on to the sand in 25 ft of water.
I took this picture of the Mi Amigo’s mast, two Days
After she sunk. B.M.
Albert, who organised the trip said “She looks like she
Is asking to be towed off the sandbank”
Having taken the first disc jockeys ever to be saved from the sea back to Sheerness, the coxswain told the press, 'the operation to get the crew off took twelve hours. It was the hairiest rescue I have ever done.' The survivors were taken to the police station where they received the warmest hospitality. At the same time they were warned that they would be reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions under the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act of 1967 because the ship, albeit wrecked, represented a pirate radio station in the national waters of the United Kingdom!
The Mi Amigo still lies deep in the Long Sand, but anyone can switch on their radio and hear Caroline still sailing along on the airwaves.