November 2006

Now that's a real wash-out

Rod Edmond
A Kent village club sailed into the Channel to re-enact a historic match and got far more than they expected

A Kent village club sailed into the Channel to re-enact a historic match and got far more than they expected

The famous match: the original Illustrated London News woodcut (see larger version) © Illustrated London News

The Goodwin Sands, off the Kent coast from Ramsgate, is best known as a place of shipwreck. In The Merchant of Venice, Salarino describes how one of Antonio's ships has been wrecked on the Goodwins: "a very dangerous flat, and fatal, where the carcasses of many a tall ship lie buried". Less well known is its history as a venue for summer cricket. In August 1854 the Illustrated London News recorded a match on the Sands between "Captain Pearson and 10 crewmembers from his lugger, the Spartan" and "a party of Walmer Gentlemen". In August 1919 a group of cricket enthusiasts rowed out and had a narrow escape as the tide came in.

In July the prize-winning BBC series Coast suggested that my village cricket club, Beltinge, might take part in a re-enactment. At 6.30 on a clear summer morning we gathered at Ramsgate harbour and, together with a production and camera team, were shipped out to the Sands, several miles off the coast.

The Goodwins is not, in fact, very suitable for cricket. Though covering several square miles at low tide, it is pitted with pools of seawater, and only a narrow margin of firm, gently sloping beach at the water's edge was fit for the purpose. I had imagined a robust game of beach cricket but instead we were extras in a Ricky Gervais set. In the opening scene we emerged out of the water in cricket whites, bats and pads under our arms, like less scantily-clad Honey Ryders, staring with wonder at the brave new world of the Sands. We then took up positions around a single set of stumps while one of our team pretended to bowl, the programme presenter played an air shot to leg and I took a fake catch, the ball lobbed to me from behind the crouching figure of the cameraman. With a haka-like appeal from the slips, the shooting was done. Virtual cricket had reached the Goodwins.

Wet wicket: the BBC re-enactment © BBC

What followed, however, was real enough. As the tide rose and the Goodwins sank we splashed back to the waiting boat. However, the weight of cricket and television teams with their assorted gear meant that we stuck on the Sands, side-on to the incoming tide. We clambered back into the water, chest-deep, to try and swing the boat round but we were stuck fast. Plan B involved sitting in the boat until we were floated off by the tide.

However, a strengthening north-easterly was whipping up waves that broke over the side of the boat, filling it with water and sinking it deeper in the Sands. With water in the boat up to our waists, waves dumping on us, and the flotsam of bats, pads, mics and other television equipment about to be washed away, one of our team had a panic attack. Until now I had been discomfited rather than worried but as the Goodwins sank from view the situation became serious. Even our talkative cameraman, who had earlier recounted an experience of being under fire, suddenly fell quiet. Eventually, and none too soon, the driver of the boat put out a mayday call. After a wait no doubt shorter than it seemed, the lifeboats arrived, our craft was pulled away and we were transferred to a larger vessel for our return. Entering Ramsgate harbour had the feel of returning to the pavilion after an ignominious duck.

The BBC lost 100,000 pounds worth of equipment but saved the film. Beltinge lost much of its gear but the BBC has seen to it that we shall start next season with new kit.

This article was first published in the November 2006 issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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