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The Floating Light of the Goodwin Sands

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This tale, reader—if you read it through—will give you some insight into the condition, value, and vicissitudes of the light-vessels, or floating lighthouses, which guard the shores of this kingdom, and mark the dangerous shoals lying off some of our harbours and roadsteads. It will also convey to you—if you don’t skip—a general idea of the life and adventures of some of the men who have manned these interesting and curious craft in time past, as well as give you some account of the sayings and doings of several other personages more or less connected with our coasts. May you read it with pleasure and profit, and—“may your shadow never be less.”

I gratefully express my acknowledgment and tender my best thanks to the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, to whose kindness I am indebted for having been permitted to spend a week on board the Gull-stream light-vessel, one of the three floating-lights which mark the Goodwin Sands; and to Robin Allen, Esquire, Secretary to the Trinity House, who has kindly furnished me with valuable books, papers, and information. I have also gratefully to tender my best thanks to Captain Valle, District Superintendent under the Trinity House at Ramsgate, for the ready and extremely kind manner in which he afforded me every facility for visiting the various light-vessels and buoys of his district, and for observing the nature and duties of the service.

To the master of the Gull, whose “bunk” I occupied while he was on shore—to Mr John Leggett, the mate, who was in command during the period of my visit—and to the men of the “Floating-light” I have to offer my heartfelt thanks for not only receiving me with generous hospitality, but for treating me with hearty goodwill during my pleasant sojourn with them in their interesting and peculiar home.

My best thanks, for much useful and thrilling information, are due to Mr Isaac Jarman, the coxswain, and Mr Fish, the bowman, of the Ramsgate Lifeboat-men who may be said to carry their lives continually in their hands, and whose profession it is to go out at the call of duty and systematically grapple with Death and rob him of his prey. To the Harbour Master, and Deputy Harbour Master at Ramsgate, I am also indebted for information and assistance, and to Mr Reading, the master of the Aid steam-tug, which attends upon, and shares the perils of, the Lifeboat.

R.M. Ballantyne.

Edinburgh, 1870.

Chapter One. Particular Inquiries.

A light—clear, ruddy and brilliant, like a huge carbuncle—uprose one evening from the deep, and remained hovering about forty feet above the surface, scattering its rays far and wide, over the Downs to Ramsgate and Deal, along the coast towards Dover, away beyond the North Foreland, across the Goodwin Sands, and far out upon the bosom of the great North Sea.

It was a chill November evening, when this light arose, in the year—well, it matters not what year. We have good reasons, reader, for shrouding this point in mystery. It may have been recently; it may have been “long, long ago.” We don’t intend to tell....