Saturday, 19 March 2016

LIGHTSHIP CORMORANT / LADY DIXON - Chapter 140



More detective work. I am trying to pin down the movements of the 'Lady Dixon' during her brief, failed dash to become the very first UK pirate radio station. There are a few pieces of evidence.
1.  Chris Edwards sent me a copy of a letter from Rex Gilder, O.C. of the London S.I.O. (whatever that is) to the I.O.W.T. (whoever that is) dated 28 Feb 62.  Mr Gilder states “The Lady Dixon is 'neaped at Pitsea and it is not anticipated that the vessel will be moved until March 6th approximately”.  A boat that is neaped has gone aground on a mild tide and needs a spring tide or stormy waters to float it off. The boat is only barely aground, as opposed to being hard aground. As there are only two extra high tides each month, you do not moor a boat where it can be neaped, unless you do not intend to shift it for some time. However, Mr Gilder's wording indicates that LD got caught, rather than a deliberate positioning. Hence other reports saying that LD was stuck in the mud at Pitsea and needed two attempts to be towed off.
Why was LD taken to Pitsea?  Pitsea Creek is a very narrow, muddy creek with no apparent facilities to moor a 90ft ship, let alone to do serious conversion work on her.  Further down towards the Thames the waterway does get wider, but by then it ceases to be Pitsea Creek and becomes Vange Creek and then Holehaven Creek as it reaches Canvey Island. There are plenty of places to be neaped but few, if any, to be converted.
2. I have a photo from the Times newspaper of 10 March 1962, captioned “The Lady Dixon, an old lightship, which is being towed from Pitsea to Sheerness for refitting. She is to be used to transmit radio programmes from outside the three mile limit.” The photo shows LD under tow in what appears to be very shallow water judging by the water weeds visible close by.  I am not allowed to share the photo with you (unless I pay a £75 fee), but it is the clearest photograph I have of LD during this period. Was this her being extracted from the mud? If this was at or near Sheerness, why did the Times mention Pitsea?
3. Chris also sent me two good photographs (courtesy the National Archives) of LD moored in a small dock, believed to be in Sheerness.  I included one in my last post, but the other photo gives a better indication of the size and shape of the lock. I looked at maps and on Google Earth for a dock with a similar layout, without success. However, Google Earth has an historical overlay facility and there was an aerial view of Sheerness dated 1960.  Comparing that with the modern day view, offered a strong candidate for the dock, which had obviously been filled in and built on since 1960 (Photo 1401 courtesy Google).  X marks the spot.

 Taking the National Archive photo and the 1960 Google view, I identified salient features and there is no doubt that LD was moored in that dock in Sheerness (Photo 1402). 


A – rounded jetty
B – dockside with crane/bridge
C – Lady Dixon’s mooring
D – large building with chimney on roof
E – mooring for large ship

I am trying to find a date for the National Archive photos, but my current theory is that LD was taken to the Pitsea/Vange/Holehaven creek to await docking facilities to be arranged at Sheerness for the conversion. It would be inexpensive or even free parking, but getting ‘neaped’ was not part of the plan.
The investigation continues.
David