A memorial has been unveiled to the tragedy of Sir Edward Heath's 44ft Morning Cloud, which sank off the coast of Sussex in 1974
A memorial to a yachting tragedy that killed two young men on Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath’s Morning Cloud has been unveiled, 41 years after the accident.
The accident, which badly damaged and flooded the 44ft Morning Cloud 3, forcing her crew to abandon to a liferaft, shocked the sailing community and made headlines round the world.
The photo above shows the wreckage of the yacht after being salvaged later that month.
The bow section salvaged from the wreckage has been put on display at Sir Edward’s former home, Arundells, in Salisbury. It was unveiled by Sir Ben Ainslie on 15 May and serves as a reminder of the terrible events of night of 2 September 1974, and a memorial to the two men who were lost: Christopher Chadd and Nigel Cumming.
The tragedy happened off the coast of Sussex as the crew were delivering the yacht from Burnham-on-Crouch to Cowes. The yacht had been launched the previous year and had been successful at Cowes and Margate regattas. She was a Sparkman & Stephens design, build in wood by Clare Lallow in Cowes.
The skipper, Don Blewett, had been joined by six others, including Sir Edward’s godson Christopher Chadd, Nigel Cumming, Thurs Blewett, Gardner Sorum, Gerry Smith, Bob Taylor and Barry Kenilworth.
There was, Sir Edward noted in his autobiography, a forecast of bad weather at the beginning of the passage, ‘but the boat was well adapted for rough conditions.’
The crew set off in light winds, but when they crossed the Thames Estuary the wind strengthened, then decreased to about Force 6, so they decided to continue.
‘Past Beachy Head the wind increased again, to a Force 9,’ Sir Edward wrote. ‘The boat, as expected, was handling well and the wind, blowing south-west, was helpful at that point.’
At around 11pm on Monday 2 September Morning Cloud was hit by a large wave, which knocked the boat over. There was damage, but the yacht righted herself. When she did so, it was clear that two of the crew had been knocked overboard.
One was retrieved, but the other, Nigel Cumming, could not be found, even when the yacht was turned around and a search made. There was a broken lifeline on the port side where Cumming had gone over.
The skipper fired off several flares. Two failed, and third was blown downwind.
The search for Nigel Cumming continued until Morning Cloud was hit by a second large wave and again overturned. Christopher Chadd had been wearing a lifejacket but was not clipped on. He was swept off the deck and washed overboard.
Morning Cloud had been badly damaged and several of the crew were injured. Thurs Blewett had broken his shoulder blade and ribs, had a punctured a lung, and was in a bad way. Gardner Sorum was also wounded, and Gerry Smith was in great pain and later diagnosed with three broken vertebrae.
The yacht’s six-man liferaft had been swept away, and the situation was desperate. The yacht was taking in large amounts of water, and fearing that she would soon sink, Don Blewett called to abandon to the yacht’s remaining four-man liferaft.
The crew crammed into the raft and drifted. After eight hours of suffering in the raft, the crew were washed ashore near Brighton.
The body of Nigel Cumming was later recovered, but Christopher Chadd was never found. His loss affected Heath greatly.
The memorial will serve as a reminder to the tragedy. At the unveiling, Sir Ben Ainslie said: “It is my privilege to unveil the restored bow section of the third Morning Cloud… It serves as a reminder of the tragic deaths of Nigel Cumming and Christopher Chadd, but it is also an important addition to the unique collection of sailing-related trophies, paintings, models and memorabilia held at Arundells.”
Sir Edward’s home in Salisbury Cathedral Close, Arundells, was given to a trust after his death and is open to the public each week. It houses a fascinating collection of sailing and music memorabilia, below, as well as some political cartoons made during Sir Edward’s political career.