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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Other events that occured in December

French fishing boats prepare to invade 1st
Two cargo ships collide on their way to Guernsey 2nd
Guernseyman Herbert Le Patourel wrongly thought killed 3rd
A Guernsey funeral takes place in Cornwall 4th
Guernsey steamship SS Rossgull is wrecked 5th
The Guernsey Tapestry is completed 6th
Air UK Fokker overshoots Guernsey runway 7th
Naftel’s paintings go on display 8th
Guernsey and Jersey newspapers agree to merge 9th
Sark holds its first election 10th
Beau Sejour opens for business 11th
Victor Hugo flees France and Napoleon 12th
Explorer Edmund Kennedy is speared to death 13th
Author Mary Ann Shaffer is born
Herm bribery case comes to court 14th
Alderney’s evacuees return to their island 15th
Guillaume de Beauvoir appointed dean of English Church in Geneva 16th
Castle Cornet surrenders to Guernsey 17th
Telex, phones and telegram cables go quiet 18th
Guernsey shipwreck results in starvation 19th
Channel Islands Securities Exchange founded 20th
G-COBO has a bumpy flight 21st
Guernsey struck by an earthquake 22nd
William Hedley Cliff buys Jethou 23rd
Wombles author Liza Beresford dies 24th
Asterix is discovered in St Peter Port harbour 25th
Guille and Alles lease the Assembly Rooms 26th
The Red Cross saves Guernsey from starvation 27th
Operation Hardtack targets the Channel Islands 28th
Ebenezer Le Page author GB Edwards dies 29th
Castle Cornet is struck by lightning 30th
Guernsey Police makes the world’s first underwater arrest 31st