A few years back, when WL HQ was based down on the illustrious Tolcarne beach, if I craned my neck just right, I could take in most of Newquay Bay from my desk.
For the several years I spent staring out the window, it struck me just how consistently clean, but enduringly awful the waves that broke there really were.
Now, before you well-duh your browser closed, I only begin with these blindingly obvious declarations, because they’re critical in understanding the gravity of the tale that follows.
It’s a sliding doors story far superior to the film, crafted to inspire contemplation on the profound impact of random events on the passage of history and our own contemporary realities (or perhaps, just a record of the desperate dreams of a man who’d spent far too long staring at closeouts.)
One day, when heading back up Tolcarne’s punishing steps, WL’s art director and I were mulling over just how good the bay could be if it only had a bank or reef, when an old chap heading back down the other way chipped in with a story about a ship that ran aground there in the 80s. At the time I nodded cheerily, not quite following the relevance, and filed it away with the other dubious local surf lore that swirls around the town like the contents of a gull-raided bin bag in the wind.
However, recently when browsing through an old early 90s issue of Wavelength, I happened across a story by our late founder John Conway that offered credence to the old boys interjection. I’ll let John take over from here:
“On the night of Sunday 19th April, 1987, captain John Renous of the 183-tonne Panamanian registered Ross Alcedo was totally unaware that his vessel was about to become the victim of a very strange coincidence. The Ross Alcedo was on one of her regular trips to Newquay to pick up shell fish caught by local fishermen.
On the night of the 19th, the North-West winds drove up a localised ground swell. The Ross Alcedo dragged her anchor through the night and she ended up aground on Tolcarne beach. It was 67 years to the very day that a French coal ship the Philamine parted her cable in Newquay Bay and went aground in exactly the same place, on Tolcarne beach. The Philamine wasn’t so fortunate. She was totally destroyed by the waves, spilling her cargo of coal onto the beach. To this day coal can still be found in the sand of Lusty Glaze beach, just around the point from Tolcarne.
The Ross Alcedo had 30 tonnes of shellfish in her holding tanks, mostly spider crabs. There was a distinct possibility of freedom for these crustacea, if the Ross Alcedo had followed the ill-fated Philamine. The Bay area beaches in Newquay, Towan, Great Western and Tolcarne, aren’t notorious for the shape of their waves. The prospect of Ross Alcedo being totalled by the sea and the hull forming an artificial, if only temporary, reef had local surfers jumping.
For many years surfers have sat in the line up on Tolcarne debating between sets, on big South-Westerly swells, how good it would be to have a reef to give some shape to the close out waves that break from the harbour wall to Porth Island. I found myself drawn to ‘Da Boat’ (as my mates were calling it) and once the crew were ashore I, like many others, checked it as frequently as I check the surf, just in case it had started to break up. The Wiijsmuller tug, Typhoon, tried to refloat ‘Da Boat’ and as Ross Alcedo started to sink into the sands of Tolcarne beach the prospect of a reef became nearer to a reality with every successive high tide. Surfers all over Surf City were praying for a huge South-Westerly swell to break up Ross Alcedo but fortunately for the insurers the sea stayed calm for a week; just as quickly as she was captured, she was set free.
I made my usual morning surf check and glanced over to Tolcarne to see if anything had occurred overnight. Ross Alcedo had gone, hauled to safety by Typhoon. I somehow felt cheated, the prospect of screaming high tide Tolcarne right handers was floating back home to Spain. For years to come I will have to sit in the line up on Tolcarne and listen to the taunting chirps of migrant Aussies whining “Jeez this beach is shit, I’d give a year’s supply of Vegamite for a decent reef or sand-bank.” No one will ever know how close a dream came to reality and if history carries on repeating itself in another 67 years who knows, cloned surf zoides may be shredding the screaming Tolcarne high tide right handers! . . .Alas, I won’t!’”
If John’s reckonings are correct, we’ve only got another 30 odd years to wait…