This treacherous and ever-shifting sandbank some five miles (8 km) off the coast at Deal has caused many shipwrecks over the years, and features in many guides to ghost lore as the setting for periodic appearances of Britain’s most notorious phantom ship, the Lady Lovibund (or Luvibund), supposedly to be seen once every fifty years on 13 February.
The tragic tale alleges that this was a three-masted schooner sailing for Portugal under its captain Simon Reed (or Simon Peel), who brought his newly wedded bride Annette on board, together with some friends. Unknown to him, John Rivers, who was the first mate (or the helmsman), was crazed with jealousy, for he too was in love with Annette. As the schooner neared the Sands, the wedding party were celebrating below deck, unaware that Rivers had deliberately changed course so as to run the ship aground; it sank, and all on board were drowned. In some versions, Rivers kills Reed with a blow to the head before steering to disaster. It is alleged that fifty years later, on the exact anniversary, the spectral Lady Lovibund was seen re-enacting its doom, and that this happens every fifty years.
The earliest version of this story so far traced was printed in the Daily Chronicle in February 1924; it claimed that the disaster occurred on 13 February 1724. However, a book about the Goodwin Sands by George Goldsmith-Carter, published in 1953, gives the year as 1748, and claims that the spectral ship had been sighted on 13 February in 1798, 1848, 1898, and 1948. Consequently, journalists and others were on the lookout for a further sighting in 1998, but were disappointed – nothing whatever was seen.
After the 1998 fiasco, one of the present authors appealed for documentary evidence for the existence of a Lady Lovibund, for the year of its wrecking, and for contemporary reports of the alleged phantom sightings. So far, none has appeared. It seems virtually certain that the story was concocted by the Daily Chronicle in 1924, exploiting the emotive possibilities of ‘13 February’ as both an unlucky date and the eve of St Valentine’s Day, and setting the tragedy precisely 200 years previously. What caused Goldsmith-Carter to alter the year to 1748 is not known.