Tragedy at Camber

Tragedy at Camber Icklesham Farmer Swept Off Yatcht

Tragedy at Sea off Camber

Jack Merricks farmer. sailor, life­long opponent of red tape and bureaucracy. Is dead. Drowned in the bay which he loved so much.

He was swept overboard from the Yacht ‘Nirosa’ after wading out to the vessel and assisting to sail the craft free of Camber Sands and attempting to bring her safely into Rye Harbour.

A series of events which lead up to the tragedy began at 4.30 p.m. on Sunday 13th September when the Yacht Nirosa was caught in rough seas off the Harbour. The owner, Hr.Albert Jelley of Canterbury, sent up distress flares which brought the inshore rescue craft from Rye Harbour onto the scene. Mr.Jelley, his son Roger and a third man were taken off.

The Yacht came aground just to the east of the Harbour entrance on Camber Sands. It was at this point that Mr. Merricks came onto the scene. He waded out to the Nirosa and climbed aboard.

Jack Merricks, a fine sailor since his boyhood days, knew the dangers and difficulties presented by the situation.

He was a founder member of the Rye Harbour Sailing Club, formed in 1929, a fact of which he was very proud. He had sailed in Rye Bay on the old Rye Harbour lifeboat and knew all the men of that ill fated vessel which came to grief in similar conditions.

He had sailed his yacht ‘Gadfly’ in and out of Rye Harbour countless times and knew most there was to know about the Rother mouth.

Jack Merricks

Jack Merricks must have been weighing all these considerations in his mind when the Inshore Rescue Vessel returned to the Nirosa and put aboard Mr. Roger Jelley and a large anchor.

With the aid of the anchor the Nirosa refloated on the tide and the two men aboard sailed her off into deeper water. The weather deteriorated further but when Mr. John Atkins took his Fishing Boat out and offered to tow the Nirosa into Rye Harbour Jack Merricks refused a rope “I’ll sail her in” he said.

There is little doubt that Mr. Merricks would have ‘sailed her in’ – but for a freak wave which swamped the Nirosa and swept both men into the sea Roger Jelley was saved by the mainsail rope which wound round his legs, he clambered back onto the Nirosa. He heard Mr. Merricks calling for help but could not see him in the dark.

Mr. Jelley sent up distress flares in and these were seen from the shore.

The inshore rescue craft-put to sea for the third time – The Dungeness life­boat was launched. Mr. Atkins also joined the search in his fishing boat. None of the vessels could get close enough to the Nirosa to be of assistance and the yacht was swept onto the beach at Broom Hill. Mr. Jelley was picked up by coastguards and reported that Jack Merricks was missing.

The sea search was continued until midnight. Rye fishermen joined police and coastguards and searched the shore all night. It was believed that Mr. Merricks was wearing a life jacket but hopes of finding him alive gradually diminished as the storm raged and the time went on.

Jack Merricks
Jack Merricks

An Air/Sea search was started at day­break and continued throughout the day.

Dozens of local people, friends of Mr. Merricks and reporters congregated at the spot at Broom Hill where the Nirosa was aground. They watched in silence as the vessel was smashed to pieces by the same storm that claimed Jack.

“Rye’s Own” October 1970

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