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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
had not known Ian but quite naturally sincerely hoped
that the DTI people would have the grace to allow the
service to go ahead.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
had been cleared to go aboard
the Ross Revenge - part