30 years ago

Zeebrugge always sends a shiver down my spine as, by pure mischance, a busy cross-Channel car ferry capsized while leaving port in normal weather conditions.  Somehow or other the main doors were left open and, as she gathered speed, she ran aground on a sand bar and capsized in no time at all.

Passengers had just left their vehicles on the car deck and were sorting themselves out for the 2-hour cross-Channel passage to Dover.  Their whole world was turned upside down as the fast flowing sea rushed in.

Recalling this dreadful loss of some 193 passengers who could easily have been any of us and who wanted to visit the marvels of medieval Bruges, then a lunch, stock up with vino and head home.

A visit to Teddington to the National Physical Laboratory with a party of friends of the National Maritime Museum helped to build a startling picture as a model of the ‘Free Enterprise’ was put through a precise re-enactment through their wind tunnel test lab.  BY coincidence there was also an architect’s layout model of Canary Wharf testing the wind stresses and strains, seen well before construction.

By chance, as a guest at the Old Bailey for a rapid but traditional luncheon hosted by both sheriffs of the City, I was seated next to the distinguished Lady Butler-Sloss who had been well-briefed of my maritime interests.  My host John Taylor (who was also a Friend of the National Maritime Museum) suggested we should attend the afternoon session of the formal inquest on the circumstances and loss of life.  The reality of the cross examination pointed to a horrendous situation beyond imagination; especially when one recalls the jollies of a coach bound day trip from Blackheath, packed to the gunnels with good friends.

About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

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