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Well Known Stories - Phantom Lights of Sker & Tusker


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Well Known Stories

Phantom Lights of Sker & Tusker


Background

When Porthcawl docks were being built it was firmly believed that a ghostly and inexplicable light could be seen hovering above Tusker Rock. Sometimes the light drifted westward and could be seen hovering over Sker Point. In either case old salts believed the light was the harbinger of a storm or a forthcoming wreck.
Because of this light the water around Tusker was regarded with awe by local fishermen and it was deemed appropriate to always cast out three nets. If the middle one filled with crab and lobster bad weather and a poor season would follow; if it filled with fish fair weather and a good season were indicated.

Phantom Ship

In the early 19th century sailors of Porthcawl told a tale of a ship from the underworld. It was a 3-masted barque which as it sailed up and down the coast smelt abominably of sulpher so much so that life in the coastal villages became difficult. The devil had placed the souls of sinners in this ship but its constant meandering had annoyed St. Donat so much that he pierced its hull with a spear. The devil who at that moment was counting the number of souls aboard was thrown into the water and had to swim for his life. The ship was wrecked and a giant from the Gower made a toothpick from the mast and a hankerchief from the sails.

The Cyhiraeth

Accompanying the ghost light of Tusker was the Cyhiraeth - this was an unearthly noise starting as a moan heard in the distance across the waves gradually increasing in pitch and loudness until it became a scream. It might stop suddenly or gradually die away only to come again in a startling shriek that petrified all those who heard it. It often travelled inland frightening the people in the small villages of the Vale. It was always the harbinger of a terrible storm with the certainty of a shipwreck to follow.

The Tolaeth

The Cyhiraeth sometimes brought the Tolaeth - another sound less frightening but more ghostly. This was the noise a carpenter would hear at night after making a coffin; the sound of hammering would be heard with inspection revealing nothing untoward. The Tolaeth was well known throughout Wales for in the past because of epidemics and a short life expectancy when coffin-making was chiefly a carpenter's main source of income. In the coastal areas because of frequent wrecks more than the usual number of coffins were often required increasing the hearing of the Tolaeth as a direct result.

Old Coastal Beliefs of Glamorgan

Background

A sailor's life tends towards the creation of legends and superstitions. This was particualarly so in previous centuries when sailing ships, without modern navigational aides were at the mercy of sudden storms and unchartered reefs. Wales with its long coastline had its full quota of sailor-lore with the Bristol Channel reputed as one of the most dangerous passages in the world. The following strange sayings and beliefs are outlined as they are well known on our side of the Channel.
A person or animal found on a derelict ship had to be thrown overboard. If the person or animal swam back to the ship it could be considered fully derelict and so no claims for salvage could be made.

If a man spat to windward before an outward bound ship has passed Lundy Island the voyage would be troublesome. Spitting leeward appears to have been harmless.

When stepping ashore or going back on board it was considered lucky to lead off with the left foot.

Whistling near the coast was dangerous because it could bring on unfavourable winds.

If going down the Bristol Channel the sea at Nash Point roared louder than at Breaksea Point the voyage would be unsatisfactory.

A ship listing to starboard was lucky - but to port unlucky.

Porposies swimming to windward indicated foul weather within 24 hrs but if they began jumping out of the sea fair weather was on the way.

If Lundy Isalnd or the Devon coast could be seen clearly storms could be expected - if they were enveloped in a mist or haze great heat was on the way.

A piece of bread taken from a loaf baked on Good Friday gave a sailor good luck on a voyage.

If a drowning man clutched at the 7th or 9th wave he would be saved but if he were swimming for the shore and was overtaken by one of the waves he would be drowned.

9 plunges in the sea were a good remedy for nervous disorders. People born near the sea never had such a complaint for they were brave from birth. A glass of seawater taken daily on rising from bed helped people attain a great age.

Strange lights seen hovering near a ship's mast were called 'Canwyll yr Ysbryd' (Spirit Candles) - 2 lights were a favourable omen, 1 indicated disaster.

Many people and sailors thought that the eating of fish should be avoided. This was because fish fed on the bodies of the drowned.

Sea mistletoe was an excellent barometer for mariners if placed in a bottle of seawater and sealed. When the water became dull or muddy storms or heavy rain could be expected - as long as the water stayed clear it would remain fine.

If it rained when the tide came in the next morning would be a good time for sailing. If it rained when the tide went out the next few days would be wet and dismal.

White waves were regarded with awe for it was thought they contained the spirits of the drowned. The white waves around Nash Point were called 'Merry Dances' in which at Christmas, Easter and All Hallows Eve the dead rode on white horses.

The state of the moon was considered to be an infallible guide to sailing weather. A pale new moon meant rain, a red full moon wind. A moon seen in the daytime indicated cool periods. A single halo around it meant rough weather ahead, a double halo held the prospects of hurricane-force winds. If the 'horns' were pointing upwards it would be dry, downwards wet.

The ship's cat was more than a catcher of mice - it was a guide to the future. If it mewed onboard trouble lay ahead; if it stretched out so that its paws met before reaching Lundy from any Bristol Channel port there would be storms; If more than frolicsome there would be heavy gales. When the cat washed its face very often with a paw the voyage would be unlucky and if it turned its back on the captain the ship would be wrecked. If it went as far as scratching the mast nothing in the world would save the crew.

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Acknowledgements


Bibliography

  • Bridgend County Borough Council Library & Information Services
  • Legends of Porthcawl & the Glamorgan Coast - Alun Morgan
  • Rob Bowen - Kenfig.org Local Community Group

Webpage Author

  • Rob Bowen - Kenfig.org Local Community Group, 2011


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Kenfig - The Complete History (e-Resource) - An important part of Wales' documentary heritage

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