Ghost ship rings a bell with readers

READERS from as far away as Oregon in the US have written in with information about the appearance of a ‘ghost ship’ spied through the mist from Alderney’s lighthouse.

Elizabeth College students (from left) Brent Sharman, Alex Grimwood and Bailey Gill enjoyed an evening of bell-ringing at St Anne’s Church along with Alderney’s young bell-ringers
Elizabeth College students (from left) Brent Sharman, Alex Grimwood and Bailey Gill enjoyed an evening of bell-ringing at St Anne’s Church along with Alderney’s young bell-ringers.

READERS from as far away as Oregon in the US have written in with information about the appearance of a ‘ghost ship’ spied through the mist from Alderney’s lighthouse.

Visitor Bill Cook took a series of atmospheric photographs of the ship as it made its way towards the breakwater, hugging the coast. He speculated that it could have been The Matthew, a replica 15th-century vessel based in Bristol.

But the consensus of readers was that it was the Etoile du Roy, based in St Malo, Brittany.

Writer and marine enthusiast Nick Smith emailed to say: ‘I’m pretty sure by the masts and the shape of her that the vessel is the Etoile du Roy, currently based in St Malo and owned by the historic Etoile marine group. She was previously called the Grand Turk and lived in Whitby, where she was used in the Hornblower TV series.’

He said when he saw her in the summer, he was instantly smitten. ‘But when I researched her a little bit, it turns out I have seen her before many times over the years in her different guises.’

Originally built by the Turk family, English ship and boat builders who can trace their Thames lineage back to the 12th century, the Grand Turk was designed in 1997 and built in the Turkish seaport of Marmaris, presumably because labour and materials were cheaper there than in the UK.

It was a major achievement – the first frigate of its kind built to almost original specifications in 150 years. She has made numerous appearances on the ITV series Hornblower as the HMS Indefatigable, and later the French Papillon. As of 2010, though, she is very much French. Gone is the Grand Turk’s turban-clad figurehead, to be replaced with a one-eyed pirate wench.

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Three Elizabeth College students joined forces with young Alderney bell ringers to see how their experiences of the historical practice chimed.

The Guernsey pupils have been learning to ring bells since last September under the tutelage of ringer and maths teacher Duncan Loweth.

Knowing that there were a number of youngsters on Alderney learning to ring on the Wombels – safe, sound-proofed smaller bells – in the Methodist Hall, Mr Loweth arranged to get the two groups ringing together.

Amy Wesley, Marli Barker, Melissa Johns and Holly Neale joined Alex Grimwood, Bailey Gill and Brent Sharman in a very enjoyable Saturday evening at the Methodist Church, where the Wombels are kept.

Leader of the St Anne’s bell ringers Helen McGregor said: ‘On Sunday morning the boys enjoyed visiting the St Anne’s belfry, where they acquitted themselves most favourably on their six church bells.

‘Over Sunday lunch the boys held a friendly rope-splicing competition before returning once again to the Wombels for more ringing before heading for home.’

Ms McGregor said she hoped Mr Loweth would bring more bell-ringing students to Alderney. ‘The Wombels are an exceptionally convenient set-up to master the art of bell ringing,’ she said.

‘They are completely safe for novice ringers and are a very realistic simulation of church bells, but are completely soundproofed.’

St Anne’s Church’s bells are to be removed from their tower and sent off for their 60-year maintenance and service programme after Easter.

The last time they were removed was by the Germans during the Occupation, who recast them as munitions.