Saturday, January 14, 2012


In Rhossili Bay on the end of the Gower Peninsula is a beautiful beach. Two thirds of the way along you can make out, from the cliffs above, some weird shapes in the sand. They look as if they could have been old groynes or a small boat that has long since died.

Approaching it you discover the alignment of the wood doesn't quite work as sea defence or small boat. In fact you can see the prow of an enormous boat. There is a mixture of wood and metal work that suggests it may be old but not that old.

In fact this is the Helvetia, which sank in 1887 without loss of life although the story is that the cargo of wood now makes up the floor of many local houses. Sadly there was a tragedy when six men were killed in the operation to recover the valuable anchor.

I pondered our island existence this week. It has been a week when a British submarine lost in 1942 off Malta was found and declared a war grave for the 90 hands who perished and also when a huge passenger boat capsized, also in the Med, currently with a loss of life of only three. I fear this will rise.

We live on a planet made up largely of water. Those early explorers who went to sea not knowing where they would end up sure were brave, or at minimum had more curiosity than fear. But shipwrecks tend to stay where they happen.

The wreck of the Helvetia is strangely beautiful at low-tide in the January light. It breaks up the monotony of the miles of sand but like flowers attached to a lamp-post. How fragile we are.

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