Veryan Bay and Gerrans Bay situated as they are, close to the sheltered safety of Carrick Roads, have always been a danger to unwary mariners. Divided by the mighty granite cliffs of Nare Head and defined by the long arm of Dodman Point in the east, both bays are dangerous “lee shores” offering no safe achorage in a gale. Any sailing ship coming round the Lizard and running for safety in Falmouth in a storm had to avoid the Manacles, a rocky reef just south of the mouth of the Helford river on its port side, but there was only a narrow band of safe water between the terrifying Manacles and St. Anthony’s Head to starboard. Stray too far to starboard and it was all too easy to slip into Gerrans Bay. Then, with St. Anthony’s Head behind the helmsman’s port side and the rocks of Nare Head and the Dodman to starboard there would be no escape. In past two centuries many sailing craft and even some steam vessels have perished on Veryan’s coast in this way. From the cliff path it is even still possible to make out the skeletons of some old wrecks.
The wreck of the Hera
Of all these wrecks perhaps the best known and most tragic, is that of a German steel sailing barque, The Hera, which happened almost a hundred years ago on February 1st 1914. The Hera had left Chile with a cargo of nitrates 91 days previously and was hoping to pick up the Lizard and St. Anthony lights but as there had been no sun for three days the Captain was relying on dead reckoning in thick fog. Aware of the danger of the approach to Falmouth he shortened sail to reduce speed but the mate reported breakers ahead. The Captain at once gave the order to “put about” but it was too late. The Hera struck the reef that runs out from Nare Head at 10.40pm, by 10.50pm she was sinking. At first the crew were cofident that they would be rescued and fired distress flares, although two of the Hera’s life boats had broken from their mountings and drifted away, the remaining lifeboat was successfully launched with several members of the crew on board, leaving the captain and few seamen on the The Hera. Suddenly, without warning, the Hera’s steel hull sunk, leaving only part of her foremast above the waves and swamping the only remaining lifeboat before it could get clear. A few survivors managed to cling to the foremast. As the tide rose they were forced to climb higher and higher up the mast.
There was now a long delay before rescuers could arrive. Just how and why this was has never been clear. Although the five survivors, who were eventually rescued at 4.30am on February 2nd were adamant that the ship had struck rocks just before 11.00 pm the lifeboat maroon was not fired at Falmouth until 1.30am. A local doctor hear the distress maroons and joined a number of local people on Nare Head. He managed to direct the headlights of his car toward the wreck and the survivors reported seeing the light. In spite of this, the rescuers at sea found it difficult to locate the cries for help. Eventually, The steam tug Perran got to wreck at 3.30am. Of the crew of 24, only the bodies of twelve sailors were recovered. The twelve are buried in the churchyard in Veryan in what is, perhaps, the longest single grave in the country – 75feet from end to end.