Dead Cool

(Note: this piece was originally written back in 2008 when I was still working on the final edits ofthe book which was originally published as Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline.  It is referred to here by my earlier intended title, and the excerpt quoted in fact never made it into the published version for reasons for space).

I’m back from my week long retreat down the southwest, where I spent my time lazing, writing, and thinking (in pretty much that order). Back presenting Random Access on Phantom 105.2. And counting myself lucky to be alive.

Not because of anything that happened to me during the week, but because, like a good writer, I was trying to please my editor, and ended up stirring up some sleeping dogs from the recesses of memory.

When I say editor, Sarah (from the wonderful Seven Towers Agency) is actually my agent, but she is going through an editing process with me on the book, Somewhere Down The Crazy River, as part of the preparation for marketing it to potentially interested publishers. It’s an interesting process for me, having someone with no detailed background knowledge of offshore pirate radio reading the text, and giving me the thoughts and comments that hopefully future readers would raise with the current version. Some minor typos corrected, comments on the flow and occasional suggestions for rearrangement of paragraphs, and gentle prods to include background information when certain sections rely too much on my own instinctive knowledge of how it was back then.

Amongst the material I had to examine or rewrite while on holiday was a section which takes place in high summer, on board the Radio Caroline ship Ross Revenge in 1987. Sarah had inserted a note asking what we were doing in our off-air free time, stuck out on a ship in International Waters, on the hottest days of the year.

I’d written a lot about surviving the storms of winter, and about the many mays of keeping amused on stormy nights, and the various crisis, adventures, friendships and rows that made life at sea spark. But the hot days of June . . . racking my brains I thought about the sunbathing – not all that interesting – and then it came to me, something I had totally forgotten over the years: the swimming!

This far out at sea there would be no room for mistakes, and swimming sessions were strictly a group rather than a solitary activity, with two people watching over the side, and safety buoys deployed and attached to the ship by ropes. Tidal streams in the Knock Deep were strong, and we had no rescue craft to go after anyone who was swept away, so swimming was restricted to about half an hour either side of the turn of the tide, when the current was slack. Swimmers stayed close to the ship at all times, never further away than we could throw a life buoy. Mostly we would swim up and down along the side of the ship, the more adventurous going as far forward as the anchor, or occasionally doing a complete circuit of the ship if they were strong swimmers. The watchers on deck would move around to stay with the swimmers at all times.

The first time I ever ventured into the water was both an exhilarating, and profoundly scary experience. The water was cold, and there was nothing underfoot – no bottom to touch, as we were in about 30-40 foot of water in the middle of the Knock Deep. The ship beside me was my only safety, and had precious few things to grip onto at the waterline anyway. There was nothing else in sight as far as the eye could see. Even in calm conditions, gentle swells would lift me up and down unexpectedly. At first I just clung to the side of the ship and enjoyed the feeling of being in the water with the safety of still being attached, but after a while I became more adventurous and was able to let go, and start swimming forwards, careful not to stray more than a few yards distant as I swam alongside. Going forwards, I had a pleasant surprise when I came level to the part of the ship where the generator room was located, as the cooling water outlet was discharging lovely warm water into the sea at that point (the generators used sea water cooling, drawing in cold sea water on the port side of the ship, running it through the cooling system to discharge hot on the starboard side).

The swimming sessions were enormous fun, and always seemed too short, though it was always with a sense of relief that I would climb the rope ladder and find myself safely back on board again.

View from the Ross Revenge - an empty sea

View from the Ross Revenge – an empty sea


Radio Caroline was a wonderful time in my life, the broadcasting was fun, the life exciting, and in general we were very responsible citizens, observing shipping regulations and responsible technical standards of operation for the radio station, but there were times too when we tempted fate, jumping from ship to ship as supply boats came alongside, climbing masts for repairs – and getting off our ship, miles out at sea, and swimming happily despite the fact that there was no rescue if we got into difficulties.

Maybe I’m older and less adventurous now, perhaps I’ve lost the spark, but I like to think that I’m simply a little wiser. Some of the things I have written about in the book, done without a second thought twenty years ago make my hair stand on end now.

Amazing also that I had so completely forgotten this activity – that’s the purpose of a good editor when you are writing – they don’t ever write a word for you, but they push and they prod and they question to bring more colour and depth (in this case literally) to the writing.


3 Comments on “Dead Cool”

  1. Mark says:

    Loved the book and this outtake too. I’m with you regarding how we do things fearlessly (or maybe foolishly) in our younger years. I think as we get older and more aware of our own mortality we think twice

  2. Julian Wellings says:

    What a great story Steve. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Bob Huckin says:

    Even in those short paragraphs, I was in that water with you Steve. Such descriptive writing. keep me posted re the new book.

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