Photo: Andy Ashenhurst

Why are the Goodwins so important?

credit: SDL Imports Ltd

Feared by seafarers for centuries, the ten mile long sandbank lying just four miles off the East Kent coast earned itself the nickname ‘the shippe swallower’ because once grounded on the Sands, ships quickly disappeared out of sight.  The dynamic nature of the Sands means that the seabed changes with each tide, covering and uncovering wrecks at whim, much to both the delight and frustration of archaeologists and divers.

Since the first recorded wreck in 1298, the quicksand nature of the Goodwin Sands, or the Goodwins as they are known locally, has seen the demise of over 2,000 ships, scores of military aircraft and several submarines.

Ironically although feared by mariners, the Goodwins provide a safe anchorage that is still in use today.  As the harbours of Dover and Sandwich silted up, the area of calm water known as The Downs that is protected from the easterly winds by the Goodwin Sands, became a safe anchorage for hundreds of sailing ships.

In the heyday of sail it would not have been uncommon to see as many as 800 ships sheltering in The Downs. 

The anchorage is still used today by cargo ships, ferries and dredgers, either riding out rough weather, queuing up to enter the Port of Dover or just looking for somewhere to shelter overnight.

The sandbanks also act as a vital natural sea defence for the chronically eroding East Kent foreshore and provide resting places or ‘haul-out’ sites for a colony of more than 550 seals.  The area is a popular fishing ground for both the inshore Thanet Fishing fleet and local Deal fishermen.

Research on the movement of sand within the Goodwin Sands has shown that they are essentially a ‘closed system’, which means that no large quantities of sand move either in or out. 

Instead, the sandbanks pivot on a NE / SW axis pushed by the ebb and flow of the strong tides and currents that dominate the area.

Recent bathymetric surveys put the maximum depth of sand at 80 feet (25m) with large areas of the top 10 feet (3m) being exposed twice daily at low tide.