Lost at sea on Christmas Eve


In the bitterly cold winter of 1928 three men were battling with the elements as they sailed down Channel in a North-Easterly blizzard to earn an honest crust. Their vessel, the Thames sailing barge, Lady Daphne, a 90ft coasting craft built just five years earlier, was on passage from Weymouth to Fowey to load China Clay when the skipper was washed overboard on Christmas Eve.

The young mate and third hand struggled to control the barge which had blown out her topsail, as she careered down Channel and they improvised flares by pouring paraffin from the Pansy cooking stove on some old clothing to alert the coastguard. Their desperate gesture was spotted by the Lizard signal station, late on Christmas Day.

The lifeboat was launched and in the early hours of Boxing Day they were taken off and the barge sailed on into the darkness with only the pet canary left aboard.

A day later astonished longshore folk gathered on the beach at St Mary’s in the Scillies to watch a coastal craft sailing straight into a patch of shoal water. They felt sure she was about to be wrecked. The craft was Lady Daphne and she sailed herself straight over The Hats reef and beached herself without damage. It was then the locals realised she only drew 2ft 6ins – the width of the average domestic house-door.

Lady Daphne is still sailing: her handsome lines can be admired at St Katharine’s Dock in London from where she carries cargoes, not of China clay,wheat, or ground nut cake any longer, but people.