|HMS Conway 1859 - 1974
© Alfie Windsor 1998
Through The Swellies 12th April 1949
There are many photos of the 1949 and 1953 transits through the Swellies and some have been attributed incorrectly. The following clues will help: If the ship is moving right to left then it is 1949, left to right is 1953. In 1953 there were 2 black balls hanging in the starboard Mizzen ratlines. They were not hung for the 1949 transit. NEW PHOTOS ARE MOST WELCOME!
The following recollections were written by the then Captain Superintendent, Captain Goddard.
The only drawback with Glynn Garth was lack of playing fields, and as the ship's complement was likely to increase it was agreed that if suitable fields could be found together with a shore establishment, the ship would remain in the Menai Straits. I was instructed to search for such a place and eventually I visited the Marquess of Anglesey, two thirds of whose house, Plas Newydd, was unoccupied since the United States Intelligence Corps had returned home after the end of the war. This part of the house, in wonderful condition, could accommodate 100 cadets and staff and provided excellent dining rooms, kitchens, etc. There were stables which could be converted into classrooms, laboratories, gymnasium, etc. There was a boat dock, sports pavilion and playing field with ground suitable for more football fields and tennis courts. With Snowdonia only a few miles to the south, I thought the site and prospects ideal, so with the Marquess's agreement, I took the plans of the house to the Committee of Management which body was pleased but wanted to know whether it was possible to take the Conway through the Swellies, that dangerous stretch of water between the Menai Straits and Tabular Bridge, and if so, was there are anchorage with sufficient swinging room near the house. The anchorage would have to be near enough for a quick passage to the boat dock by motor boat but far enough to thoroughly exercise the cutters' crew when rowing.
The Admiralty was approached with a view to undertaking the survey but unfortunately no vessel or surveying officer could be spared to undertake the work. Having had experience in hydrographical surveying, I undertook to do the work. Obviously my first object was to find out if the ship could get through the Swellies for it if could not it would be useless to carry on with the project. I first ascertained that the Menai Straits Suspension Bridge was 100 feet above high water ordinary springs and the Tubular Bridge 101 feet, and by striking my stump topgallant, and top masts the height of the masts above the waterline was 96 feet but as the Bridge heights were calculated on a Liverpool 29 feet tide and I reckoned on getting through on a 31 feet tide, I estimated 2-3 foot when I passed under the suspension and 3-4 under the Tubular.
From the suspension bridge to Prices Point I anticipated no difficulty but then it was necessary to take a four point turn to port as soon as we cleared the Swelley Rock in order to get the Tubular Bridge Transit Beacons in line. On this transit I could run down to the narrowest part of the channel at the SW end of the Goredd Is where I would have four feet under my bottom and soundings showed there was a width of 84 feet between the 22 feet contours (Conway's draft aft) which, as the ships beam was 54 feet, would give me 15 feet clearance each side. In the Swellies, slack water occurs 1 hour 20 minutes before High Water and the stand of the tide at Extraordinary Spring Tides is 13 minutes extending to 18 minutes at neap. At these former times streaming 9 knots in the Conway Pinnace, I could not pass Price's Point when trying to make the passage to the South West. From Prices Point of the end of the Goredd Is so I consider the tide at half flood to be 10 knots. To be safely towed though, the Conway would have to be at the Menai Suspension Bridge 1 hour 20 minutes before high water at the beginning of the stand of the tide and make the passage during the 13 minutes it lasted. I considered this possible and accordingly informed the Committee of Management and to enable them to come to an agreement over the house etc I also stated that after a preliminary examination that I was sure of a safe anchorage. I discovered one in the stretch of water running north and south between the house, Plas Newydd and Port Dinorwic. It afforded the facilities and distances we required and the heavily wooded bank on the Anglesey side gave excellent protection from westerly prevailing winds. I made the chart to a scale of 1: 2500 with the assistance of one of the masters, Mr M Woods, BA, Lt Brooke Smith (2nd Officer), and several cadets, who did all the sounding by Douglas machine, handled the motor boat and did the tide recording. They all gave me valuable help. The centre ring of the mooring was in 44 feet Low Water Ordinary Springs and there was sufficient swinging room to be considered safe. This anchorage had one drawback but it had to be overcome. The nature of the bottom was rock and stones, bad anchoring and holding ground under normal conditions and methods. I therefore decided to bury four five ton Admiralty Pattern anchors NE, SE, SW and NW from the centre mooring ring. Two of these were the spare Conway anchors which had remained so long on the forecastle bill boards. These were slung between two of the cutters and towed through the Swellies to the positions between the high and low water contours and dropped in the water as near as possible by eye. The other two were received at Penrhyn Dock and were treated likewise. Smooth calm water was necessary when the anchors were being transported for the cutters had only about 1" ‚ 2" freeboard and towing had to be steady.
Fortunately, all other boats stopped when they saw us as their wash might have swamped the boats. It now remained to transport the cable and this was done by building a platform between the two cutters and flacking down on it two shackles each trip. On arrival these were dropped and shackled to the anchors and stretched along the banks between the high and low water contours to wait the Liverpool Salvage Associations Ship ́Ranger' to connect it to more cable she was bring from Liverpool. The ́Ranger" under the charge of Comdr Smith, Old Conway, did excellent work and when finished, with the four legs hauled taut, the centre mooring ring was only 30 feet north of the position I had anticipated it would be. The ground legs consisted of 9, 11, 11 and 13 shackles of 2.5" cable. All this work with the exception of the Ranger's part, was done by the cadets under my guidance and indeed it was valuable experience to sling anchors between cutters, transport them to positions six miles away and through difficult water and such that in all probability, they will never do again in their sea careers.
The time taken over the surveys and getting the moorings back took approximately a year and now everything being ready, I decided to make the passage on April 12th 1949, when there was a 31 foot Liverpool tide. Unfortunately, a strong south west wind was blowing that day and after several fruitless attempts by the tugs to get heaving lines aboard, I decided it was too risky to make the passage. April 13th was a 30' 6" tide and a boisterous fresh wind blowing from the south west, but I decided to go. I got under way two minutes late and this gave me twenty eight to get to the bridge. I had previously instructed the pilot on the tug to do this part of the journey in half an hour. The tug took forty minutes and by the time I was under the bridge the ebb tide had commenced to flow. I think Odysseus had much the same feelings as I when he passed under Scylla's eyrie and with Charybdis waiting to do weird things with the tides. However, the bridge did not obstruct my main trunk there being about 3' clearance and I was soon abreast the Platters where we altered to close under the Caernavonshire Bank before hauling out again to pass between Price's Point and the Swelley Rock.
These two negotiated safely there was a four point turn to port to get her on to the Tubular Bridge Beacon's transit. Unfortunately, a squall on the port bow slowed the turn and the ebb tide took the ship towards the Goredd Is. I signalled the tug to head over to port but for five minutes we were towed alongside the island, within five feet. However, we gradually got clear and at the beacon before the Tubular Bridge we had got over the transit line, alerted course for the centre of the south arch, passed under it with a good clearance and then into deeper water. Conway was the deepest draft-vessel, 22 feet aft, and the largest ever to have passed through the Swellies and I was glad when it was accomplished.
The remainder of the passage was uneventful and we were soon alongside the ́Ranger" to take over the moorings. The time taken to pass through the Swellies was 18 minutes. It created a lot of interest amongst the North Wales seafaring fraternity who had declared the undertaking to be a foolish one. I think my experience as a hydrographical surveyor and the desperate need to get her through to open up the Conway Shore Establishment made me decide it was possible. In any case, having been done once it can be done again by other ships of similar draft if necessary. There remained a survey of the boat dock at Plas Newydd and with the help of the cadets I made a plan for the necessary alterations to be carried out later. These were effected and the dock is indeed a valuable addition to the many amenities provided by the estate.
Recollections From Cadets
"The ship was moved during the summer term holiday of 49 and I along with other volunteers stayed onboard for the move we thought that this bit of toadying would stand us in good stead for the rest of our days!!! The first week was spent sorting out moorings and investigating Plas Newydd. During the second week two tugs arrived from Liverpool for the tow that was carried out over high water springs."
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