Dealing with the wood-slick… 18th century style

Matthew Chatfield
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The Ranger’s office has been furiously busy over the last few days since the sinking of the Ice Prince on the 14th January. Over 2000 tonnes of timber on deck has broken loose and is drifting eastwards. Most of it seems likely to miss the Isle of Wight and is washing up in Sussex, but a bit has made landfall at Yaverland, near Sandown.

Wood from the Ice Prince, Yaverland

Wood from the Ice Prince, Yaverland

It was actually with some relief that The Ranger received the call this morning and went out to have a look. There’s only so much being ready one can do before something actually happens. Since the Napoli incident last winter the authorities have been very concious of the rather late response which, particularly near the vessel itself, allowed a bit of a public free-for-all which was dangerous and in some cases illegal. Media photographs of BMW motorcycles being wheeled off the beach by grinning locals probably didn’t help either. Actually, on the Isle of Wight, that incident passed fairly quietly, with nothing worse than a lot of oily oranges and shampoo washing up. It was a big task clearing it, but it was cleared. So when the Ice Prince went down, a big operation swung into action. The coastguard, local authority emergency planning units, inshore rescue, and even the Navy were involved with monitoring the progress of event – even though the worst problem they had to deal with was what came to be described as a wood slick. This apt term seems to have been especially coined for this incident, but otherwise there’s little to report. So far no significant pollution has been detected, and no cargo other than timber has been lost. Better over-prepared than unprepared, though! Regular inspections across the Island’s beaches found a few bits of wood last week, but today – excitement! A bale of timber washed up on the beach at Yaverland. By the time The Ranger arrived, there was a small crowd of onlookers, and a great deal of this timber appeared to have ‘evaporated’:

Wood from the Ice Prince, Yaverland

The Ranger didn’t see anyone taking anything – as of course this is not allowed, and so he would have had to stop them. But it certainly looked like quite a bit had gone, and probably once his official presence and the council van was out of sight the onlookers suddenly starting rummaging through it again. The photograph above was sent to the Ranger by a correspondent who visited the site later when the tide was lower, and said that the bale was almost entirely gone. In all likelihood by the end of the weekend the whole lot will have disappeared. It made The Ranger think of the Island’s long heritage of smuggling and ‘salvage’ – and possibly even wrecking. If a bale of timber identical to this one had washed up on an Island beach 300 years ago, in all likelihood the response of the locals would have been the same and the scenes on the shore no different. The Ranger felt slightly embarrassed in his role as ‘Customs man’, but everyone seemed to know how to respond, the tableau was played out, and the beach most likely will be cleared at no expense to the public purse. Another good day’s work.

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

2 thoughts on “Dealing with the wood-slick… 18th century style

  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    I thought that anything washed up on English shores could be claimed as salvage, that is what we always thought as boys on the Sussex coast.
    Regards, Le Loup. (an ex West Sussex lad).

    Reply
  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    I couldn’t get excited about stuff from the Napoli – motorbikes, kegs of wine, nappies and shampoo, but planks of wood! Wow! I hope at least some of the ‘salvaged’ wood reappears as lovely raised veg beds in gardens and allotments across the IOW.

    Reply

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