The final crossing 

17-18 November 1905




 It was 10 p.m. on the 17th when Hilda sailed out of Southampton bound to Saint Malo with 103 passengers on board. The fog patches that had delayed the departure became soon a thick fog necessitating the ship to be anchored around 11 p.m. off Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, until the visibility improved. At 6 in the morning of 18th, with better weather conditions the voyage was resumed.

   Crossing the Channel was made under full speed in fine and clear weather conditions until reaching the Race of Alderney at half past noon. However, gradually those good conditions changed to a fresh easterly wind and a rough sea after passing Jersey. Mile after mile, both wind and sea became stronger while the ship was ploughing towards Saint Malo. Heavy clouds soon covered the sky when in the meantime atmosphere was becoming colder.

   Around 6  p.m., Hilda was maneuvering to enter the harbour roads, heading for the Jardin Lighthouse. It was dark and lights from the town were clearly visible but soon came a heavy snow squall extinguishing all the lights. Immediately Captain Gregory ordered the boat to starboard, steering a new course to northwest and reduced speed.  That was all he could do without a clear sight of the lighthouse and the coast. Just wait until improved conditions.

 What happened exactly on board between that time and the time of the accident is not fully known. We only know that in several occasions, the Jardin Lighthouse came in sight for short periods necessitating Gregory to abort each time every attempt he made to enter the Roads. According the survivors, shortly before 11, the lights of Le Jardin were clearly seen but a few minutes later the Hilda was violently smashing on the reefs located a few hundred yards west of the entrance channel to the harbour. Navigational error ? Wrong appreciation of the drifting angle ? Both, wind and tidal current were pushing to west but Gregory was a cautious navigator with years of experience in cross-Channel runs... We have to consider however what can have been the pressure over him. Due to the delay, he had few chances to enter the harbour before the tide was too low, what meaned they would spend the night out at sea until the next morning, passengers situation was rude, many of them being badly seasick. For those reasons or others, did he took a risk ? Hard to say, and he will never come back to explain what happened.

   Whatever the reasons, the Hilda was stranded on the reefs and with the ebb, the situation of the ship could only worsen. An attempt to lower the boats was made but except one, all the others were either smashed by the sea or could not be lowered due to the rocks. In such conditions, without assistance from the shore, it could only turn to a tragedy. The empty boat together with dozen of bodies will be found the next morning on the beach at Saint Cast, some 15 miles west of Saint Malo.

  In fifteen minutes time, the fate of the Hilda was sealed. The ship broke in two parts, the forepart rolling over one side of the reef, the after one foundering in the western edge but due to to little depth, the wreck was not submerged, allowing some 20 people to find a refuge in the rigging. They will remain there all night long, dying from exposure or exhaustment one after one. It is there that the Ada will find them at 9 in the morning. Only six people had survived the frightening night, among them one crew member, James Grinter.

 The toll was heavy, 125 out of 131 people on board had died ! and during the following days, mainly at Saint Cast, the tide was to bring more bodies on the beaches. The last body was found in January but they were not all recovered and a few ones have had only the sea for grave.