2nd December 1955

Two cargo ships collide on their way to Guernsey

The Winchester and Haslemere, both British Transport Commission ships serving the Channel Islands, collided at 1.09am. The Winchester had been heading from Southampton for Jersey, while the Haslemere was making the same trip in the opposite direction.

They struck in dense fog close to the Sconce Buoy, and the subsequent inquiry in the County Court at Southampton found that the speed at which the ships were sailing – full speed in both cases – was inappropriate for the weather conditions.

The stern of the Winchester came into contact with the starboard quarter of the Haslemere, despite the crew of the Haselmere having seen the Winchester on their radar screen. The crew on the Winchester had also seen the Haselmere on radar but were unlikely to have heard its fog horn as the Winchester was such a noisy boat and her engines would almost certainly have drowned out any audible warning.

Unclear instructions

Having recognised that the ships were heading for one another, the master of the Winchester told his crew to turn to starboard “a bit”. A bit is somewhat imprecise, but we can surmise that he hadn’t meant what actually happened: the master in control turned the wheel hard right instead.

As the lights of the Haselmere became visible through the cabin windows, the Winchester’s helmsman was ordered to turn hard aport (left), but by now it was too late as the vessels were less than two ships’ lengths apart. Their fate was sealed, and they collided.

The Winchester sustained serious damage to her bows, but was repaired and put back into service, and had a second collision, in 1970, with a beacon off the coast of Guernsey. The Haselmere’s steering was damaged in her crash with the Winchester and she was scrapped four years later.

The certificates of the captains on both boats were suspended: of Captain Denny on the Winchester for six months, and of Captain Hewson on the Halesmere for eight months.


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