3. Sep, 2017

Red Sands Fort

During the war..... the War Office built a number of gun platforms in the mouth of the Thames to try to stem the flow of enemy aircraft trying to damage the morale and infrastructure of London. These platforms, known as the Maunsell Forts, were usually in blocks of seven platforms with anti-aircraft guns on each platform except for one that had a searchlight on it.

After the war ..... they were kept active during the Cold War but were stood down in the late 1950s and left to the mercy of the elements. Some of the forts were damaged by storms and errant shipping which led to their removal. Now there are only two forts left at Whispering Sands well out into the North Sea and Red Sands which is 13 miles out from Southend.

The remaining forts have been seen as a hazard to shipping as well as providing nostalgia for cruise ships and pleasure craft passengers. However now that some bright spark has placed a geocache on the landing platform of the Red Sands Forts, they have become the holy grail for cachers in the South East.

I have always had an interest in military architecture so wanted to get really close to the Maunsell Forts. Now I'm a geocacher, I had to get out there, so had to formulate a plan. After a bit of research, I'd found a fishing boat willing to take me out there. Trouble was I needed another nine people to make up a party and help cover the cost! I casually mentioned my plan at one of my events and whoosh, the places were filled and I had a waiting list!

Unfortunately, the first planned date had to be called off at very short notice due to a cracked gearbox cooler. However, today, it was all systems go and the team of Cazmocket, Mathsnut, pippitt, pitpul98, NathanJHunt, Izybuzyfingers, gregstermonkey, btl101092 and yours truly met up at 0815 at Two Tree Island near Leigh-on-Sea.

The skipper and his mate arrived and we were taken out by tender to the fishing boat, Girl Mandy. We punched our way against the tide past the Southend shoreline and the longest pleasure pier in the world on our voyage out to the forts. We saw the distant broken Mulberry Harbour caisson and dodged the incoming shipping. We also had to dodge the sudden incoming spray when we hit swells.

Soon there were some specks on the horizon that got larger as we got closer. We could see two sets of seven which must be the forts. Suddenly we were amongst rusting iron triffids looming out of the sea. We were all excited to be here and hoping to get on to the landing stage but it soon became apparent that the cache was to be so near but so far away.

We circled all the seven structures picking out items of interest. I suddenly spotted Radio 390 6 - midnight written in faded paint high up on one of them. How the memories started flooding back. Radio Invicta, renamed Radio KING, became Radio 390 after its wavelength of 390 metres. It was one of the first pirate radio stations positioned just outside U.K. territorial waters in the mid sixties.

My dad used to listen to the Mike Raven blues programme from Radio 390 every Sunday night. He used to record all the programmes and then cut and splice all the different bluesmen's work onto small reel to reel spools. So when the "Beano" album by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton hit the record shops in 1965, I heard their version of Robert Johnson's "Rambling On My Mind." Then it was "Dad!, you got any stuff by Robert Johnson?" He handed me a small spool saying "Here, boy, listen to this." That was it, I was hooked. I still have all the recordings but I can't listen any of them, as every track is introduced by my late dad's voice.

After we had taken numerous photos, we decided that was time to return to port. I asked the skipper if we could go back via the Montgomery. SS Richard Montgomery was a Liberty ship, mass produced by the US shipyards to meet the war effort. The Montgomery, packed with explosives sank in the Thames Estuary off Southend in 1944. It was deemed to dangerous to raise the ship or remove its deadly cargo so it has remained there ever since. The story is that if it ever exploded, the tidal wave would take out Southend!! All that is visible of the huge ship are the tips of the masts!

So now was the time to make for the safety of the shore. We reached the moored tender, transferred safely from Mandy and got back to shore. We profusely thanked the skipper and the mate and after saying our goodbyes, everyone set off for home or more caching!

So another filled space on my D/T grid but a fantastic, nostalgic day. Certainly my favourite geocache and what an adventure.

PS, if you ever get to listen to the "Beano" album, one of my favourite all-time tracks is on there. "Have You Heard" with the brilliant solo by Eric, is, as my old mate John Down would say - Blinding!