The past is indeed another country, but the future is a map that we can draw for ourselves if we dare.
It was 20 years ago this morning, (20th November 1991) that I came to the end of the roughest night I had ever known in all my years at sea with Radio Caroline, and faced what I came to believe would be my last ever dawn.
Aground on the infamous Goodwin Sands, which have claimed hundreds of ships and thousands of lives, we were gradually rolling over, each wave pushing us a little closer to the tipping point where the ship would capsize. Ironically, although there was not enough water to float her, there was more than enough to flood into her and fill her up if we went sideways . . more than enough to drown in.
The waves were towering in the North Easterly Force 11 winds, the seas icy – we wouldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes if we went over.
The brave men of Ramsgate Lifeboat had already tried to rescue us and failed, running aground themselves, losing a man overboard in the process (happily quickly recovered by safety line). Now we were waiting for the helicopter, but it seemed we would be in the water before it arrived . .
Certain that we would be drowning in minutes, the floor beneath us already at a 45 degree angle, we hugged each other, shook hands, and said goodbye. We knew we were going to our doom . .
The story of that morning, and our eventual rescue by the RAF helicopter R166 is described in detail in my book Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline, but even the printed word cannot do justice to the memories which are still vividly seared onto my brain, even all these years later.
I absolutely believed that I was about to die, and that morning, and in particular that moment, has changed my life since then.
The 20 years I have lived since that morning on the Goodwins is a bonus, and the older I have got, the more I have appreciated this, and the more I have lived my life with zeast and purpose. The sudden seeming end of Caroline in 1991 (though not the final end, as it has bounced back and is adpating to a new age) instilled in me a knowledge of the impermanance of states of being, and ensured that when I got involved with Phantom FM in later years I treasured each moment, and drove myself to both give and take the maximum from every day that I worked there.
In life too, I reach out with lust for living to take the most from each day, and push myself to do and experience more and newer things.
Life is a bonus, and I am determined to spend that bonus to the full.
Many people around me comment on my seemingly unflappable calm when faced with difficult situations. This too comes from that morning on the Goodwins, for as I see it, I have been minutes from an icy drowning death, so why should anything that happens in a more normal work or life based situation cause me to panic?
Time has been kind to Radio Caroline too, and that morning, seemingly a point of closure for the station was to be in fact the first step in forcing it to adapt to a new path, which though seemingly bleak for much of the 1990s, has blossomed in latter years into an unprecedented period of stable broadcasts, with new technology enabling the station to be heard in undreamed of quality in previously unreachable countries.
20 years on I have spent the night of the 19th/20th November sipping wine with close friends, and thanking my lucky stars for all the richness of life and the benefits of new technology that both I and Radio Caroline have enjoyed in the last 20 years.
It’s right to raise a glass and look back, but the biggest gift of all is to be able to raise my gaze and look forwards.
20 years on from the most terrifying morning of my life . . aground on the Goodwin Sands with hopes of rescue seemingly dashed as the crew of the Ross Revenge shook hands and prepared for the ship to roll over . . .
Seven Towers Agency, East Wall for All and The Sean O’Casey Community Centre present:
Radio Caroline, former Phantom FM DJ and Best Selling Author
Reading from his book
Shiprocked, Life on the Waves With Radio Caroline
Sean O’Casey Community Centre, East Wall, Dublin.
7pm Monday 21 November
free parking, admission free
20 Years ago this November, Dubliner and East Wall resident Steve Conway survived the shipwreck of the Ross Revenge, the last of the Radio Caroline off-shore Radio Ships. Reading from his book, Shiprocked he tells of this event and of his life on the famous Pirate Station, Radio Caroline.
Steve will also read a preview excerpt from his new book, due out next year, that covers his career beyond Caroline, including the 10 years spent working for Dublin’s alternative station Phantom FM / Phantom 105.2
This event is free, but an opportunity will be available to give donations and to RNLI and Sean O’Casey Community Centre.
It’s just 5 days now till the reading I have been most looking forward to for the last year, when I return to Ramsgate in Kent to read and thank the RNLI Lifeboat crew for their efforts on our behalf when the Radio Caroline ship Ross Revenge ran aground on the Goodwin Sands almost 19 years ago.
Below is a clip from TVS (the former ITV station of the area) news on the day of the grounding on the Goodwin Sands, 20th November 1991. By the time the film crew flew out to shoot the footage, the ship, although still aground, was upright again, as it was high tide.
My book, Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline tells many stories of my time at sea with the station, but it is the final chapter, with the shipwreck which always drawns the most comments, and the most rapt attention, at public readings. Whenever I read from this, I always talk about how, although it was a helicopter which eventually rescued us, the dedicated crew of the Ramsgate Lifeboat stood by us for three hours, and braved treacherous seas on the Goodwins to try to come alongside in a rescue attempt.
I’m therefore really pleased that this time, I will be reading in Ramsgate itself, and the local RNLI crew, including at least one of those who was on board that morning in 1991, will be there to receive my thanks.
The event takes place this Saturday, 27th March, at 3pm in Ramsgate Library.
Admission is free, and all donations to the RNLI are welcomed. I’ll be donating my royalties from any books sold at the event to the RNLI of course.
Sadly the RAF base at Manston, where the TV footage was shot, and from where the rescue helicopter came, is now long since closed, although a museum remains on the site.
The lifeboat though continues, and I hope that this reading will be able to contribute something useful to them by way of publicity and funds.
It’s that time again – the monthly “Last Wednesday” open-mic evening for Irish writers, is on tomorrow, Wednesday 24th September 2008, at Cassidy’s of Westmorland Street in Dublin City Centre.
The event is hosted by the Seven Towers Agency and includes poetry, fiction and nonfiction writing.
Apart from myself, readers will include Doog Wood, Oran Ryan, Eamonn Lynskey, Noel Ó Briain, Donal Moloney and Ross Hattaway.
Ross Hattaway was born in Wellington New Zealand, but has lived in Ireland since 1990. He has had many varied jobs and currently works as a civil servant. His first collection of poetry, The Gentle Art of Rotting was published by Seven Towers in 2006. This will be Ross’ first reading in Dublin, after touring Lithuania as part of the Poetry Spring Festival 2008 and seeing his work translated into Lithuanian.
Eamon Lynskey has had poems published in many magazines. He was nominated for the Sunday Tribune/Hennessy Literary Award for New Irish Poetry in 2006 and one of his poems will feature on the 2009 OXFAM calendar. His first collection Dispatches and Recollections was published in 1998 and he is currently working onhis second. As well as writing in English, Eamonn has also translated works of Italian poets Montale and Valeri and written in Italian – he holds, (among other qualifications!) a Diploma in Italian Lauguage and Culture from the Italian Institute, Dublin.
Dónal Moloney was born in 1976 and comes from Waterford. He has been writing seriously for ten years, during which time he has written a novel, several novellas and many short stories and poems. He is currently completing a collection of three novellas. He works as a freelance translator and lives in Dublin. He is a regular featured reader at both Chapters and Verse Reading Series and The Last Wednesday Reading and Open Mic Series. Donal is represented by The Seven Towers Agency.
Noel Ó Briain was born in Kerry, grew up in Dublin and now lives in Camolin, Wexford. He is a playwright and poet and a former head of drama at RTE. He has worked for many years in theatre, radio and television as an actor, producer/director, designer and script editor.
He played the part of Cranly in the premier of Hugh Leonard’s Stephen D (an adaptation of Joyce’s Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man) at the Gate Theatre. He also played the part of the IRA officer in the premier of Brendan Behan’s An Giall in the Damer Hall in Dublin and designed the set for this production. The play was later translated into English as The Hostage and staged at The Royal Theatre Stratford by Joan Littlewood.
He has produced and directed many plays in the Damer Hall under the auspices of Gael Linn. Among others these included Gunna Cam agus Slabhra Óir by Seán Ó Tuama and Aggiornamento by Chriostóir Ó Floinn. He also designed the sets for these and many other production. He has directed Ulick O’Connor’s Noh Plays at The Project. As a Radio Producer his drama productions have been selected as RTE’s entries for the
Prix Italia. He has won a National Jacob’s Award for his production and adaptation of Seán Ó Tuama’s Judas Iscariot agus a Bhean.
He has worked as Producer, Director, Series Producer and Script Editor in numerous television one-offs, series and serial drama, often combining several of these skills in one production. These have included The Riordans, Bracken (which launched the career of Gabriel Byrne) Glenroe and Ros na Rún among many others. He also produced and directed the controversial series The Spike until it was withdrawn by RTE itself after complaints from the League of Decency and State interference. He has participated in a documentary in the Scannal series on RTE which deals with well known Irish scandals – including The Spike! (to be transmitted in Autumn 2008). He has won the Celtic Film Festival Drama Award for his production of Tom Murphy’s screenplay, Brigit. He has devised and conducted numerous screenwriting courses. Among these was the initial course for the development of new writers for the series Ros na Rún on TG4. He has conducted several screen acting courses both independently and for the Gaiety School of Acting.
His poetry and short stories have been published in a number of literary magazines including The Kilkenny Magazine and Poetry Ireland. They have also been broadcast on radio in the short story slot and on Sunday Miscellany. His poetry collection Scattering Day 21 Sonnets and Other Poems was published by Seven Towers in 2007.
Noel has two plays currently available:
The Land of She: An adapted for theatre translation of Brian Merriman’s Cuirt on Mhean Oiche, this hillarious play is written for five parts.
He has also completed a short verse play inspired by Synge’s Deirdre of The Sorrows, entitled Áinle and Árdán Are Already Dead.
Oran Ryan is a novelist, poet and playwright from Dublin. He has had poems, short stories and literary critical articles published in various magazines. His first two novels, The Death of Finn and Ten Short Novels by Arthur Kruger were published by Seven Towers in 2006. He is currently working on his fifth novel and had three plays and two screenplays in pre-production. Oran won a 2008 Arts Council Bursary Award.
Doog Wood is a Dublin based poet from North Carolina. His poetry has been widely published in journals and anthologies. His first full collection will be published by The Seven Towers Agency in 2009.
My own reading will consist of part of the final chapter of Somewhere Down The Crazy River, which concludes the book by relating the shipwreck of the Radio Caroline ship Ross Revenge on the Goodwin Sands in November 1991.
All are welcome to attend, it’s always a great evening.