All Aboard a Pirate Ship! - Fraser Marshall

The Ross Revenge, home to Radio Caroline since 1983

I've been responsible for maintaining the Trust's website since 2010, but although I'd been on board Endeavour while she's moored up at Leigh, I'd never had the privilege of enjoying a trip until this summer. A grey August day saw my wife, Kate, and I rendezvous with my father and our daughters, Olivia and Grace, who'd been staying for a week with their grandparents, at Bradwell Marina on the Blackwater.

Out in the estuary we could easily spot the scarlet hull of the Ross Revenge, home to Radio Caroline since 1983. We headed out across the pontoons to Endeavour, moored near to the entrance to the Bradwell Creek and joined up with a gaggle of fellow passengers, many of whom sported impressively-lensed cameras around their necks, and skipper Andy Wood. 

It didn't take long to get underway and once around the mudflats at the mouth of the creek we were able to point Endeavour up river towards the Ross Revenge. Grace, the younger and braver child, decided that she wanted to sit on the starboard hatch cover with me, enjoying the spray that the very mild chop was throwing on deck.  

Having watched Christopher Nolan's just-released Dunkirk film a few days before the trip, I was particularly conscious of how that little boat must have felt in 1940 as she made her way back from the beaches full of exhausted soldiers, back towards the bigger ships that would take them home to Blighty and safety. Endeavour felt pretty full with just 11 of us on board. How must she have handled with two or three times that number on board, trip after trip after trip? When I think of the fishermen that had gone to Southend pier head with no idea of what they were about to be asked to do, I am full of admiration for them.

Andy maintained a steady course and speed toward Ross Revenge with her dramatic radio tower looming above. Eventually we could pick out 'Radio Caroline' in the distinctive rounded black font on her superstructure. Expertly brought alongside, we were quickly tied on and were able to scramble on board assisted by a gentleman we soon learned was Peter Moore, Caroline's Station Manager. After five minutes in the ship's lounge, Peter took us up to the bridge, largely unchanged since her days as the world's largest side-trawler.  

A panoramic shot of Station Manager Peter Moore among the vinyl collection in the Captain's cabin.
Below that was the captain's cabin, which was stuffed to bursting with vinyl. Kate and I were delighted to discover a picture disc by our favourite band, Marillion, mounted on the wall. For a music fan this really was a treasure trove, though I was struck by the condition of the sleeves. Peter explained that DJs would make a note on the cover every time they played a track to prevent too much duplication of what was played. 

Studio B - A is through the window
Behind the captain's cabin were the two broadcast studios, both minute, and jammed with equipment. I asked whether the records didn't skip as the boat moved, but Peter told me that it was rare. In heavy weather, a DJ might tape a penny to the tone arm, just as many do at home! 

Up on deck we craned our necks to view the transmitter tower. Impressive now, it's remarkable to think that the previous tower was three hundred feet in height. Imagine being up the top of that trying to carry out a repair in anything more than a mild swell! At the bottom, a colossal RF insulator cannot help but remind me of the old Frankenstein films, crackling with electricity! 

We were then taken down into the bowels of the ship to see her generators. An extraordinary volume of concrete is down there to offset the enormous transmitter. In the engine rooms, there was plenty of evidence of Ross Revenge's earlier days as a trawler. One of the challenges faced by the Caroline team responsible for her ongoing restoration is to identify what's essential if she's ever to move under her own power again, and what's the remains of her fishing equipment. Finally, we got to see the crew quarters. If you've seen The Boat That Rocked, let me assure you they're nothing like that at all. They're tight bunks, several to a room, with high sides to stop you rolling out in the middle of the night, not normal beds in decent-sized cabins!

Andy Wood waits patiently for his charges to return
Back up in the lounge, we were treated to hot tea and biscuits (may I apologise on behalf of the girls, I think they may have been hungry) and then Endeavour dropped off a second group eager to explore. We thanked Peter for his illuminating commentary and climbed back down onto our little ship for the trip back. The wind seemed to have strengthened a little, and there was more spray this time, but it wasn't long before we were back at Bradwell. A wonderful trip, and if there's another opportunity in the future, grab it with both hands!

Addendum: I later learned that our second group had by far the worst of the weather; rain and wind on their trip back to Bradwell!

The trip the following day had to be cancelled with the members booked waiting expectantly at Bradwell. This group included managers and staff from the Co-op. This had been the second time our supporters at the Co-op had their trip cancelled. What does one expect of the British summer? Hopefully we can reschedule this trip in 2018.
Many thanks to Andy who, as well as skippering Endeavour, made all of the arrangements with Bradwell Marina and Radio Caroline.

This is a longer version of the piece that appeared in the newsletter.

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