Mar 18, 2023 I Brent Swancer

The Mysterious Ghost Ships of the Goodwin Sands

Just as any place on land, so does the sea hold its tales of ghosts and paranormal phenomena. At the southern end of the North Sea lying 6 miles (10 km) off the Deal coast of Kent, England is a 10-mile stretch of sandbank known as the Goodwin Sands. It is an area notorious for being a dangerous passage for ships in the English Channel, with treacherous, constantly shifting sands, tides, and currents, which in addition to its location by a major shipping lane have caused it to rack up around 2,000 shipwrecks. Considering this ominous history, the area has long been home to stories of various ghost ships said to prowl the area.

One of these is a vessel with a tragic history revolving around love, infatuation, and revenge. The story goes that on February 13, 1748, a three mast schooner called the Lady Lovibond set out from Kent on its way towards Oporto, Portugal. It was a joyous occasion, as the captain, Simon Reed, was taking his new wife Annetta on a honeymoon cruise, along with various friends, family, and the bridal party. As they made their way along the Thames and out to sea towards their final destination celebrations were in high gear, with a lot of partying going on celebrating the new marriage. It seemed that everyone was happy, except for one man named John Rivers. Rivers had been Reed’s friend and even his best man at his wedding, but the problem was that he was also secretly infatuated with Annetta, and was seething with jealousy at the wedding and the cruise they were on to celebrate it. 

The Goodwin Sands

The story goes that Rivers eventually sort of snapped and knocked the captain out as he was steering the ship. The bitter, rage-fueled Rivers then steered the ship out into the Goodwin Sands, where it did what many ships before it had done and wrecked. The tragic wreck would send the Lady Lovibond to the bottom of the sea and kill all aboard. It was tragic, but soon the disaster faded from memory. However, it seems that the Lady Lovibond was perhaps not as gone as everyone thought.

Exactly 50 years later, of February 13, 1798, the Edenbridge, captained by a James Westlake, was passing through the area when they came across a three-masted schooner headed towards them through fog. It was reported that the sounds of festive celebration could clearly be heard coming from it, and it passed so close that they feared a collision. At the same time, a nearby fishing trawler also saw the vessel, and both skippers looked on in horror as this ship full of laughing, cheering revelry smashed upon the sand and began breaking apart. A rescue vessel was sent to try and save the passengers, but when they reached the spot, the schooner suddenly vanished into thin air, leaving no wreckage or bodies behind, as if it had never existed at all.

Another 50 years passed and on February 13, 1848 a three-masted schooner was once again seen to crash upon the sands, only to vanish into thin air. This happened yet again, every 50 years, until the last recorded sighting in 1948. On this occasion a Captain Bull Prestwick sighted the phantom vessel and reported that it looked completely solid and real except for being bathed in an eerie glow. There is no known sighting after this, despite the legend being so popular by that time that droves of people turned up at the sand in February of 1998 hoping to see the ghost ship. No contemporary records of the ship or its supposed sinking have been found, so it is hard to know how much of the legend is true or even if the Lady Lovibond was ever even real at all, but whether this is a genuine paranormal phenomenon or just a myth and urban legend it is still spooky, indeed. 

If this is a real haunting of some sort, then why should it be that this particular place should have a spectral ship attached to it? After all, there are many places in the world with shipwrecks that don’t have such tales. Is there some inherit quality of the place itself that holds these forces to it? The case of the Lady Lovibond could be the result of what is often called a “residual haunting,” meaning that rather than an actual free roaming spirit, it is more like an image on film, somehow imprinted upon this place to play again and again like a video on a loop. The fact that it is always seen smashing itself on the rocks to break apart over and over is typical of this sort of haunting, which typically involves the person or object mindlessly going through the same motions as in life, oblivious to the surroundings. It also fits in with some of the other lesser known ghost ships seen at the Goodwin Sands. For instance, there is the British merchant steamship the SS Montrose, which drifted onto the Goodwin Sands and wrecked in 1914 and has been seen ever since replaying that tragedy. Adding to the list is the SS Violet, a cross-Channel paddle steamer that was blown off course into the sands by a snowstorm and appears sporadically in an actual spectral snowstorm to crash and sink. Are these all just images of the past etched into this pace to be projected like film onto a screen?

There is no agreed upon mechanism for how a residual haunting might work. Ideas range from that it is some feature of the landscape or make-up of the geology that causes it to the idea that places with such hauntings lie on some Earth energy line, but there is no way to know if it is even a real phenomenon or not, let alone how it works. Perhaps it is something about the shifting sands here, or the fact that there is so much death and tragedy orbiting this place. Or maybe it is just pure legend and a piece of spooky lore. We can only guess, and for now these ghosts ships seem to cruise about past our understanding. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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