Over the last week an unusual number of ships have been in distress off the coasts of Europe. Ten people died when a fire broke out on board the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic near Corfu off the coat of Greece; the cargo ship Blue Sky M was abandoned by its crew off the southern tip of Italy with 970 migrants on board; the cargo ship Ezadeen was also similarly abandoned by its crew off southern Italy with 400 migrants on board; and eight people lost their lives when the cargo ship Cemfjord, which was carrying cement from Denmark to Runcorn in Cheshire, sank in the Pentland Firth, the strait that separates the Orkney Islands from the far north-east coast of Scotland.
In the most recent incident last weekend, a 51,000 tonne car transporter the Hoegh Osaka was deliberately grounded in the Solent, the strait of water between the Isle of Wight and the mainland of southern England, when it developed a list after having left the port of Southampton. Fortunately no lives were lost and the 24 crew members and the pilot have been taken off the ship, with only two of the crew suffering minor injuries. The Hoegh Osaka is currently beached with a 52° tilt on a sandbank, Bramble Bank, which is in the middle of the Solent.
And just over six years ago, in the early hours of 11 November 2008, the 40-year old Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 was forced aground on Bramble Bank by strong winds on her approach to Southampton Docks. It was her last visit to Southampton prior to before becoming a floating hotel in Dubai. Fortunately the tide was rising and four tugs were able to pull her clear of the sandbank, and she docked only 90 minutes late.
Bramble Bank, otherwise known as ‘The Brambles’ is an arrowhead-shaped sandbar in the central Solent which is often uncovered during the twice-yearly equinoxial tides. At other times it is a significant navigational hazard or a useful escape for smaller vessels from the huge ships that come and go from Southampton. The bank is moving very slowly westward and it is marked at its south-eastern limit by the Brambles sea pile, which is a meteorological station, and on its western limit by the West Knoll buoy.
On a lighter note, Bramble Bank is renowned for the annual cricket match that is held there during the late summer equinoxial tide, usually at the end of August or in early September. The game dates from the 1950s and the Royal Southern Yacht Club based at Hamble on the mainland plays the Island Sailing Club from Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The teams and their supporters arrive at the sandbank in an armada of small boats, with the busy shipping lane not far away, just as the sandbank is first exposed. The uneven surface of the sandbank with some sand and large puddles at best, ensures that the game is more a social occasion than a serious cricket match. The game never lasts long as the tide returns after about an hour. There is a 360°view of the 2014 cricket match here and a lively report here of the 2010 game in the Daily Telegraph.
The Brambles cricket match has been described as ‘quintessentially English’ with the victor of the game being pre-determined as the two clubs simply take it in turns to ‘win’ the match, regardless of how the match progresses. Conditions allowing, a temporary bar, the Bramble Inn, is set up to dispense Pimms, though more often than not the bar remains on one of the boats. Bramble Bank was referred to during a debate on a licensing bill in the House of Lords in 2003, when a government minister was asked which licensing authority was responsible for Bramble Bank and other sandbanks like it, which were exposed only two or three times a year. An answer was apparently not forthcoming.