26th January 1977

Guernsey passengers are battered by storms

The Earl Godwin, a British Rail car ferry serving the Channel Islands, docked at Guernsey on 26 January 1977 after a very rough night at sea.

The ship had had to heave-to seven miles outside St Peter Port when the rocking motion of the boat started to shift cars on deck. When this happens, it can affect the balance of the vessel which, if serious enough, risks capsizing it. It also washed a life raft overboard.

When a crew “heaves to” it effectively parks its ship without using an anchor. This is a particularly useful tactic in a storm since laying anchor could cause even more damage if it should snag on an underwater obstacle and the ship be thrown by the waves. If the anchor snags on an undersea cable it can snap the cable, causing significant damage.

Ferry operators experiencing very rough conditions will sometimes point the ship into the force of the storm even if that is not the direction they want to take. This way the waves are sliced by the prow rather than hitting the flat sides of the vessel, thus reducing the sideways rocking motion.

A widespread storm

On this occasion, the Channel and the whole of the south of England was being battered by storm force winds, which had felled trees in nine counties and delayed trains. Even in London, the gusts were sustaining 60mph; at the coast they were approaching 100mph and throwing up 15ft waves.

The previous year, passengers had staged a sit-in on the Earl Godwin, refusing to leave the ship until they and their cars were transported from Weymouth to the Channel Islands when stranded by a strike.


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Other events that occured in January