What us writers do in the name of research

Yes, I did a silly thing this morning.  I decided to walk over Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight at 8 a.m directly into the eye of the storm, with gale force winds gusting at 60 m.p.h. and rain sweeping across the open countryside, like a giant hosepipe out of control.  I was only glad the direction of the wind meant I wasn't going to be blown off the edge of the cliff, my body to be dashed on the rocks below or to land with a thud on the sand and be swept out to sea in Sandown Bay.  But it was possible, I thought. It could happen to one of the characters in one of my marine mystery crime novels.

Not that I really needed to experience the gales personally to write it, part of being a writer is using one's imagination.  And although it was uncomfortable in the storm - especially when the sand from the cliff blew into my eyes and has left my right eye feeling very gritty, so much so that I've had to pop to the chemist and get some eye drops for it - it was nevertheless invigorating.

I could see exactly how so many ships can come to grief in such a sea and such a storm, and looking across to Dunnose Point it was as though I could see HMS Eurydice, the Island's own ghost ship, sinking off there on March 22nd 1878.

After crossing the Atlantic in sixteen days, HMS Eurydice arrived off the Isle of Wight at 3 pm, "moving fast under plain sail." By 3.40 p.m. she was sailing besides Sandown Bay.  Suddenly a great squall bore down on the bay, blackened with snow and ice circulating at enormous speed. According to eye witnesses, the Eurydice continued at full sail with her gun ports open before disappearing in the midst of the blizzard. Why she was sailing with open gunports has not been resolved.

Many of the crew were trapped when she was was sucked to the seabed. Of the five rescued from the waters, only two survived. HMS Eurydice was raised soon after the disaster and her bell now hangs in St. Paul's Church, Shanklin. Gerard Manley Hopkins composed a short poem about her:

Too proud, too proud, what a press she bore!
Royal, and all her royals wore.
Sharp with her, shorten sail!
Too late; lost; gone with the gale.

Now the Eurydice haunts the waters. I'm sure that was her I saw before that sand blew in my eyes!


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