Published: 05:00, 20 January 2022
| Updated: 10:45, 20 January 2022
Last-chance trips to see the masts of Sheppey's bomb ship the Richard Montgomery are selling out fast.
Since the Ministry of Defence announced it was going to hack off the rusting superstructure this June, there has been a stampeded to book boat tours to get up close to the historic wreck off Sheerness.
The American liberty ship has been rotting beneath the waves in the Thames Estuary between Kent and Essex with its deadly cargo of bombs since it sank in a storm and broke its back on a sandbank in August 1944 during the Second World War.
Martin Harmer, the owner of the X-Pilot, a 55-year-old former pilot vessel based at Queenborough, said: "Since we announced the tours on December 31 we have been inundated. We have had to add extra trips because of the unprecedented demand."
The 90-minute excursions, possibly the strangest in the UK, take 30 minutes to reach the exclusion zone around the wreck. Passengers have up to 30 minutes at the site.
Martin said: "It gives plenty of photographic opportunities. We have had all sorts of people but mainly Islanders wanting one last look. Many grandparents have been coming aboard with their grandchildren."
Tickets cost £34 to £39, depending on the dates.
The next sailing is this Sunday at 9.30am. There is only one space left. Other sailings are on Sunday, February 6 (one space left), Saturday April 2 (five spaces left) and Saturday, May 28.
Martin and his skipper Captain Alan Harmer also offer longer five-and-a-half hour trips to see the wreck and the Redsand and Shivering Sands Maunsell sea forts starting at £64. There is also a seven-hour Grand Forts Tour which takes in the Grain Tower Battery and Kentish Flats wind farm as well. Tickets are £89.
The X-Polite is the preferred partner of the The Maunsell Seafort Appreciation Group founded by photographer Margaret Flo McEwan. She was aboard the X-Pilot on Friday.
She said: "Words can't describe how idyllic it was to be out in the Estuary in the most perfect of conditions. Low tide coincided exactly at the same time as sunset and with bright, clear skies. And the sea was like glass."
For details visit www.x-pilot.co.uk, email email@example.com or call 01795 487568 or 07960 574821.
Future of the masts?
What will happen to the masts of the American bomb ship the SS Richard Montgomery when they are cut down?
And what will happen to the family of cormorant sea birds nesting on them off the coast of Sheerness?
Veteran sailor Tim Bell from Minster said: “I have messaged the RSPB bird charity as the cormorant is a protected species. The removal of the three masts will mean scores of these wonderful birds will lose their home.
“The authorities should erect some structure to give the birds a replacement and also to identify exactly where the wreck is.
“It would be helpful if others could contact the RSPB and the authorities to remind them that these birds need our protection.”
Others have been on social media wanting to know what will happen to the masts once they are removed in June.
Kirsty Gearing, writing on The Sheppey History Page, said: “It would be a great shame if they weren’t put where we could see them up close, either as a monument or in a museum. They have been part of the Island’s history for 77 years.”
Historian Martin Hawkins added: “I would like to see them incorporated into a monument along the coast within sight of the wreck and with an information panel about its history. We must do our utmost to keep them on Sheppey as so much of our heritage has already been lost.”
Brad Gallagher suggested they be turned into a sculpture on the roundabout at the entrance to Sheerness Docks.
Ian Smith added: “I think most Islanders would like a monument made from the masts. There are several artists who would love an opportunity to create such a piece. But funding would be an issue. Perhaps the USA would be willing to contribute?”