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A visit to the Knock Deep - home of the pirates - 1985
Two parts - click here or at the bottom of the page for the next instalment

 

Sunday afternoon on the M2 in Kent is often busy and the 15 September 1985 was no exception but I was at last on my way. The trip out to the radio ships was on and I was late. The weather had deteriorated at the end of what had been a rare week for the summer of 1985.

We had experienced sunshine, high temperatures and calm seas all week but on Friday it had all changed. Strong to Gale force winds had been forecast and for once the weathermen had got it right. I telephoned my contact on Friday night who confirmed that the trip was in doubt and to check with him on the Saturday. Two phone calls on Saturday and still an air of uncertainty hung over the trip although it was thought the weather was going to moderate. One more telephone call on Sunday morning and at last the words I wanted to hear. "The trip is on be there by 15.45 sharp".

As I headed along the Thanet Way across the flat coastal plane of North East Kent where the farmers drive huge Massey Ferguson tractors and cabbage fields abound, I could see the outer reaches of the Thames Estuary. Visibility was superb, the Red Sands and Shivering Sands forts, the home of amongst others Radio' s 390 and City during the 1960s stood out clearly on the seascape. This was going to be a day for memories and discovery but my main concern was that road works had delayed me and time was running out. Full of anticipation I pulled into the car park at Ramsgate Harbour and looked for a gathering of like-minded individuals waiting to journey into the North Sea.

At the prearranged meeting point I found who would be my eleven companions for the next 8 hours or so. Our host was John, a well-known force behind the Caroline Movement and we set about introducing ourselves to each other. The party included another John, from Birmingham, Victor from London and hiss daughter Caroline (there's a true offshore fan for you), Colin from Leighton Buzzard, Les and his son and daughter (more of them later) and two people who recently got engaged by the name of Fiona and Dave. Everyone seemed thoughtful as we walked along the quayside to the steps alongside which our boat would be moored. But no boat.

"He' s out with a fishing party but should be here soon" said John. Looking towards the horizon we searched for an incoming boat and with the help of a pair of very strong binoculars John was able to announce "There he is". A tiny speck with a large bow wave could be seen. Having two 120 horsepower motors under its floorboards the boat was alongside in about 20 minutes and after a sluicing down to rid it of fish scales and discarded lug worms we were aboard. It was about 1700 hours by the time we headed out of the harbour entrance in the 39 ft metal hulled boat. It was to take some 2.5 hours to reach that much publicised part of the Knock Deep Channel which had recently seen one of the most asinine governmental decisions ever enacted.

It had been confirmed that the "spy boat" was still out there and much discussion was had amongst the party as to what it was going to do when we arrived. Previous trips had been turned away upon arrival, some had been chased all the way back to port, others had been intercepted, photographed, interviewed and on occasions been "buzzed" by the DTI boat which came in very close.

The Laser jocks have joked about the size of the Dioptric Surveyor" but 90ft is big when you' re sitting in a 39 ft fishing boat. However, on this occasion it was hoped that the crew of the DS would be reasonable for humanitarian reasons; onboard we had Les and his son and daughter. Last December he had lost his other son Ian who had died as a result of an illness which had plagued him for many years. Ian had been a staunch supporter of CM and was a first-class radio engineer who at the beginning of this year would have taken up a post on the Ross Revenge. The purpose of today's trip was for Les and his family to make a presentation to the crew of the Ross and for a memorial service to be held for Ian.

I had not known Ian but quite naturally sincerely hoped that the DTI people would have the grace to allow the service to go ahead.

As we headed along the Thanet coast towards the North Foreland point the sea was fairly choppy. Once past the Foreland we headed north easterly and out into the open sea. The sea state was noticeably different. Our skipper mentioned that it was a "moderate" sea. Not being a sailor myself I would have called it something else but let me say that I would not have liked to experience a rough sea in a boat the size of ours. I had wondered why the skipper had put up an awning over half of the afterdeck on such a nice day. Now I knew, it was to keep us in and the sea spray out. Actually the boat is very safe having been fully licensed with all the correct life saving gear, buoyancy tanks, handrails etc. Ironically its licence tickets are issued by the DTI.

As we left Margate behind, owing to good visibility, We could see the Tongue Sands fort and the Tongue lightship on the horizon. The fort, which was never actually used for an offshore radio station in the 1960s although many rumours surrounded it, looked quite sinister sitting there on the sea with the sun setting behind it. It is the same type of fort, used originally by the Navy, as the Knock John fort once the home of Radio Essex and the Roughs Tower now the home of Roy Bates and his independent state of Sealand. Continuing on a North Easterly course we passed near the Outer Tongue buoy and reached the halfway mark on our journey. I had been told previously that, if lucky, the wreck of the Mi Amigo might be visible to the west where she rests on the Long Sand sandbank. Sure enough there she was. The aerial mast standing proud but pencil thin, to the naked eye, on the horizon.

With the help of John' s binoculars the red and white colours of the mast could just be seen in the now fading sunlight. This was the first time that she had been spotted on a trip for along time and this was felt very appropriate in view of the purpose of this particular trip. A good omen. Conversation amongst the party was of stories from. the past, rumours about a new station and what had been happening lately. Someone had heard that Radio Atlantis was to return on 259m. Was the General Lee really going to appear? What was an expert doing at a transmitter manufacturers factory in the States?

The DS had anew "secret weapon" in the guise of a speedboat which could pursue visiting boats to investigate. Would it be used on us? Why had Charlie Wolfe stopped having digs at the DTI. Apparently he had got very depressed about the whole thing as out on the Communicator they had received no feedback from listeners to his reports "live from the poop deck" and his spoof ads for "Anoraks-DTI". To make matters worse he had asked a visiting boat for a reaction and the reply was given by an uninformed person who have a less than enthusiastic response. What with the conditions onboard, low supplies and water shortages, enough was enough and Charlie had decided to give it a rest. "Is it? Yes it is. There they are"

Fingers pointing and heads looking, windswept and spray soaked around the awning. We had our first sight of the mast of the Ross pointing skyward on the horizon. Further to the right could be seen the twin masts of Laser and sure enough just to the right of midway between the two a small craft. The Dioptric Surveyor.

We were still about 30 minutes from arriving at the anchorage so I took the opportunity to have a look in the cockpit of our vessel and have a chat with out Skipper Alex. The equipment on board was quite sophisticated with ship-to-ship radio, navigation gear, charts and a radar screen. There on the screen, amongst the various marker buoys and beacons were three distinct dots. Two large and one smaller in between all fading and reappearing with each sweep of the radar. Looking through the spray soaked cockpit windows, the ships looking quite majestic, particularly the Ross Revenge, were now much nearer and their various deck and navigation lights could be seen twinkling in the twilight.

Back on deck, people straining for a closer look, cameras clicking and conversation buzzing. "Has the Dioptric seen us? Is she moving. Yes. No. Can' t tell". Excitement was mounting as we came to a halt about half a mile from the Ross as this is where we intended to call first.

John and the Skipper called up the Dioptric on the radio, explained the purpose of our visit and asked for permission to proceed. After await of some five minutes while our request was given due consideration by the government men a reply was received.

We had been cleared to go aboard
the Ross Revenge
- part two

 
   
   
 
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