Thursday, February 07, 2008


A graveyard for ships


The Gazette
By Craig Fleming
February 05, 2008

NOTORIOUS for its westerly gales, the northern part of the Fylde coast has seen a variety of ships cast ashore over the years. Rarely has a decade gone by without the sight of some storm-tossed bundle at high water mark, or a find, half-buried in the sand.

One of the most dramatic incidents in recent memory was back in August 1981, when strong winds and mountainous seas left the £5m Anchorsholme sewage pipe project in ruins.

The giant Holland XXIV dredging platform and two supply platforms were beached and wreckage was scattered for half a mile along the Cleveleys shore.

The seven-man crew had moved the 150-ton dredger half a mile north in a bid to stop the other non-powered rigs from going ashore.

Engineers and council officials counted the cost of the destruction and the launching of the giant pipeline, replacing a 40-year-old outfall, and designed to stop raw sewage being washed up on Fylde beaches, was postponed until the end of the month.

Going back almost a century earlier, the Norwegian ship The Abana got into trouble in a storm on her way from Liverpool to Florida.

The three-masted ship mistook the recently-built Blackpool Tower for a lighthouse when she was sailing in the Irish Sea in a storm on December 22, 1894.

The Abana was spotted floundering off North Pier, her sails torn to shreds.

Blackpool lifeboat crew was alerted but a rescue attempt was delayed for a few hours as the lifeboat, the Samuel Fletcher, had to be towed from Blackpool to Bispham by horse.

By the time it was launched at Little Bispham, the Abana had already been wrecked off Shell Wharf.

The lifeboat crew rowed through the surf to the stricken vessel and rescued the men, only to become stuck on a sandbank.

The gallant boatmen pushed her clear and reached the shore to the cheers of about 100 people.

Rescuers and rescued were given a party at the Red Lion Hotel, Bispham.

It's a testament to Victorian shipbuilding that part of the wreckage can still be seen at low water on the beach at Norbreck. The bell hangs in Cleveleys Parish Church to this day.

On the same day as the Abana hit the pier, Fleetwood fishing boat Petrel was also driven ashore by the same storm close to Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Storm conditions also brought the end of trawler Commandant Bultinck which was driven ashore at Rossall on October 2, 1929.

A 60mph wind, hail, rain, thunder and lightning battered the vessel and three crewmen died as they tried to swim ashore. Nine of their colleagues survived.

One of them, a deckhand named Pierre Luyens, was washed ashore on Preesall Beach on November 1 and has his grave in Fleetwood cemetery.

Commandant Bultinck, a Dutch-owned trawler, was on her way home after fishing off the Isle of Man. She was eventually broken up where she lay on the beach.

She had previously been a Fleetwood vessel but was sold and renamed in 1926.

Two years before the Abana disaster, in 1892, Fleetwood to Florida was the intended route of the Sirene – but instead the giant Norwegian ship only got as far as Blackpool and became another of the resort's most well-known shipwrecks.

The 667-ton boat smashed into the North Pier in a hurricane on October 9, 1892, destroying part of the structure. Incredibly the 11 crew members jumped on to the pier to safety. Its wheel is in Blackpool lifeboat house.

But perhaps the Fylde coast's most celebrated shipwreck has to be Nelson's former flagship, the Foudroyant, which went down in a storm off Blackpool on June 16, 1897.

Launched in Plymouth in 1798, the Foudroyant was Nelson's flagship for two years until 1800.

At 219ft long, 50ft wide, and weighing 2,000 tons, it housed 80 guns and 713 crew.

Nelson described her as "the most perfect ship that ever swam on salt water".

After ending service, the Foudroyant became a tourist attraction. It came to Blackpool from Southport on June 4, 1897, and anchored two miles out to sea between North and Central piers.

Just before 6am on June 16, a hurricane force storm caused the ship to break anchor. Drifting towards land, she just missed the North Pier jetty and hit the shore 600 yards up from Cocker Square.

The 28 crew members were saved by 16 lifeboatmen aboard the Blackpool lifeboat Samuel Fletcher.

The ship was bought by a local syndicate who – in typical Blackpool fashion – made souvenirs from the wood.

But most of the massive ship remained intact until a November storm broke it up and took it to its final resting place at the bottom of the irish Sea.


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