Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks: Virginia, Alliance

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The Post War 1940s

After the Second World War, the ports of Portsmouth and Southampton grew, and sea traffic around the Island's shores became frequent, with pleasure boats increasing in popularity. In August 1947 the 50 ton Islay Mist was forced into the chalk face of Freshwater, and after a dramatic rescue, all 7 onboard were rescued.

On August 8th 1948 the yacht Hope was forced onto the rocks at Binnel Point, where she was forced onto her side and soon smashed to pieces. The Blackgang Life Saving Apparatus crew under Fred Mew managed to rescue all nine of those onboard, with three of them rescuing two women who were in danger of drowning. They later received Bronze Medals from the Royal Humane Society, and Fred Mew was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 1951 New Year's Honours List.

S.S. Varvassi

The largest post-war wreck of the 40s was the 3,875 ton steamer Varvassi. The Greek ship was travelling from Algiers carrying tangerines, wine and iron ore to Southampton and Boulogne. When the Varvassi approached Island waters, the Captain stopped her engines in order to pick up the pilot, yet was unable to start them again. The Varvassi then drifted out of control as a light gale hit.

As the ship drifted it finally came to rest 100 yards off the Needles Lighthouse. The launch Diane approached, putting Salvage Officer Barker onboard to try and aid the stricken vessel as the Calshot, a tug from Southampton, came to her aid. Twice the chain from the Calshot was broken in the swell, but eventually the Calshot managed to anchor the ship. It then attempted to haul off the steamer at high tide, but the Varvassi began to flood.

By 2:30am the Varvassi was caught in a storm, with waves washing over her. The Yarmouth lifeboat rescued all 36 of the men on board. The cargo of tangerines was also rescued and sold ashore, a great treat after the years of rationing.

The Varvassi, despite attempts to rescue her, was doomed to stay on the Needles. Even today, some of her girders remain to hazard shipping.

S.S. Virginia

The first large wreck of the 1950s was the S.S. Virginia, a 2,050 ton steamer that was wrecked whilst sailing from Bilboa to Bremen with a cargo of iron ore. During a thick fog, she ploughed into the Atherfield ledge, 600 yards from the shore on December 23rd 1952. Captain Galatis radioed the coastguard requesting that the lifeboat that had launched be returned as he felt the ship was in good condition, and said he wanted tugs. The Blackgang Life Saving Apparatus crew, however, began to set up their rocket nearby just in case.

By 3am the weather had deteriorated, and the Virginia's sides began to be smashed against the rocks by the waves. The No. 4 hold began to leak, and by 4:30 the holds and engine room was flooded, with the radio rendered useless.

The Yarmouth lifeboat soon arrived and took off 2 of the crew, the rest deciding to stay onboard. Later, when the wind increased to gale force, they changed their minds. The LSA rocket was fired, and a breeches buoy set up. By 1:30pm the first member of the Virginia's crew was ashore, followed by the rest.

Captain Galatis presented the Rocket crew with bottles of brandy, which were promptly confiscated by the Coastguard as contraband. The Virginia was later offloaded of her cargo, refloated, and repaired in Southampton.

S.S. Kingsbridge

On the 21st January 1955 the 7,150 ton freighter Kingsbridge was stranded on Brighstone Ledge. The ship was, after a week of trying, finally refloated on the 28th January when she was towed back to sea by several tugs and a helicopter.

The Iano

On the 4th November 1957 the 2,500 ton Italian steamer faced a storm in the channel which she decided to weather in Sandown Bay. During the storm her anchor slipped, and she was driven ashore at Yaverland near Culver Cliff. 26 of the 30 crew onboard were soon landed, the rest staying onboard to supervise repairs and prepare to refloat the ship, which happened after a large amount of sand and shingle was bulldozed out of the way.

The Brother George And Witte Zee

One of the first wrecks of the 1960s, and one of the last big ships ashore on the Island, was the Brother George. She was a 7,300 ton liberty ship built in 1942, and was travelling from Manchester to Rotterdam on the 23rd February 1964 when she was driven ashore on Brook Ledge during a heavy swell. Tugs were radioed for.

The first attempt to tow her off failed, and 2 more tugs arrived, including the Witte Zee from Rotterdam, which, coming from the Brother George's home port, got the contract to recover her.

While the Witte Zee manoeuvred into a position where she could fire a line to the Brother George, a swell broke over the tug's stern, the tug rolled to port, had a hole punched in her bow, and she began to flood. The Yarmouth lifeboat came to the rescue, taking off all the men before the Witte Zee sank off Compton. The next day the Brother George was pulled from the Brook Ledge and was towed to Rotterdam for repairs.

H.M.S. Alliance

One of the more unusual ships to be wrecked on the Island was the A Class submarine HMS Alliance. On the 13th January 1968, during exercises in the Channel, she ran aground on Bembridge Ledge when the tide fell, leaving her high and dry. The crew were removed by helicopter and the Alliance was refloated the following day. She is now on display at Gosport Submarine Museum.

Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks

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