Watwick Bay Beach
If Watwick Bay could tell a story, it would be a tale of stormy seas and shipwrecks, for this rocky shore at the entrance to Milford Haven Waterway has seen innumerable maritime disasters involving coastal sailing vessels, steamers, trawlers and tankers.
Watwick Bay, which faces due east up the Haven is a narrow notch in the coast on the lee side of St Annes Head. Its steeply sloping beach of sand and shingle is a sheltered sun trap in summer but a wild and inhospitable place in winter. A great geological downfold in the Old Red Sandstone passes through the centre of the cove under the Haven to the south shore at West Angle, the sides of both bays dipping dramatically towards the middle.
Just around the corner to the west of Watwick Bay is the entrance to the Haven Waterway at St Anne’s Head where many a ship came to grief over the centuries.
A great storm in January 1936 claimed two victims in two days. One of these wrecks was perhaps the most poignant story of all, concerning the Lowestoft drifter trawler Shore Breeze which foundered on this rocky shore in a heavy squall on January 5th.
The Coastguards, with members of the Life Saving Apparatus crew, made their way along the cliffs in a howling 90mph gale, having to crawl on their hands and knees in places to prevent themselves being blown off their feet. When they reached the scene there was no sign of the drifter or her crew in the boliing seas beneath the cliffs. She had disappeared, presumably taking her master and her crew of nine fishermen to their deaths. One fisherman, however, managed to escape from the sinking vessel and reach the rocks, making a superhuman effort to climb to safety. A week later an Angle fisherman, Sidney Hicks, was passing the spot in his motor boat when he noticed a pair of legs dangling over the cliff on a ledge about 100-feet above the rocks. Rescuers found the unfortunate fisherman sitting on the ledge only partly clothed, his legs from the knees down badly battered and bleeding. An overhanging rock had thwarted his bid for safety and he had died from exposure a mere 30 feet from the clifftop. The following day the topsail schooner Ethel May of Chester fell victim to the same gale when she dropped anchor in Dale Roads, which is sheltered from all but an easterly wind. She was driven onto the rocks and wrecked, her crew saved by the Rocket Apparatus Company, who managed to shoot a lifeline across the deck.
These stories, and many others, are told in Ted Goddard’s brilliant book “Pembrokeshire Shipwrecks,” published in 1983.
But the biggest disaster Watwick witnessed was the stranding of the giant supertanker Sea Empress on the mid-channel rocks in February 1996 when 72,000 tons of crude oil was spilled and a massive week-long salvage operation and a prolonged pollution mop-up took place.