In the early hours of the morning March 26th 1997, MV Cita struck rocks off St Mary’s, eventually spilling about half of its haul of around 200 containers. The Islands woke to the bizarre view of a sea randomly dotted with bobbing 40 foot containers phasing in and out of the mist. Not only that, but action was also needed to help rescue a wide assortment of goods from containers that had been washed/towed ashore. From Ascot trainers, fridge magnets and Ben Sherman shirts to Computer mice, toys and baby clothes, the list went on and on. The photos on this page were taken by Roger Smith on and following March 26th .
Account #1 (Rowan Smith)
My dad charged out of the house as the sun was coming up to find out who was attempting to destroy our metal bike shed. He was greeted by an empty garden and the continuing sound of metal being violently dented from the direction of the sea. I stayed sound asleep. We recently moved from Hamewith in Hugh town to Normandy House at the other end of the Island and were now a short walk from area where many of the containers ended up. After I had been told the news I (very excitedly) made my way down to join everyone on the shore on Porth Wreck.
As I walked down people passed me carrying boxes of shorts and inner tubes (at this point I had no idea what was going on at the tideline). On scene, a few of my school friends had appeared and were already helping with the clean-up. Now boxes of computer mice were beginning to make an appearance from a recently opened container. There was an electricity in the air that absolutely wiped out any thoughts of the grim and murky weather. A quick dash home to pick up a wheelbarrow helped a friend and I (over two trips) save several boxes of Microsoft Mice (50 a box) from a watery grave.
Looking back, I think we were making mental maps in our heads as to which containers had washed up where and what was in each. Close at hand were Ben Sherman Shirts, Shorts, Dresses, Inner Tubes, Tyres, raw tobacco (cordoned off), Microsoft Mice, doors, Golf bags, plastic bags and plywood. As a 12 year old, all that seemed to matter were the computer mice. My older brother informed me that there had been a cargo of trainers washed up in Watermill Cove. At this point the tide had been in but there were still trainers to be had, provided you were willing to get wet (you can see a trail of them floating out in one of the pictures).
Porthcressa had been “blessed” with baby clothes. I missed the initial action there, but after the container had been removed there was still a significant amount of clothes that had spilled and were not shifting from their position at the bottom of pilchards pool. A few of us got together with a rubber dingy and went out at low tide, a few days later, to bring in a boatload of soaking wet toddler clothes. By the time we picked up/rung them out/filled the boat, the tide had come in enough for us to be able to make the return trip over the now submerged rocks. The clothes were piled up outside a house ready to be sent to charity. Pictured are a few wash-loads of the toddler clothes from when the container was originally opened, having been recently been salvaged.
There were rumors flying all over the island as to what had been in other containers and where more might turn up. Divers had turned up fridge magnets, computer towers (empty) and other bits and bobs but the Jet Ski’s which myself a few people had heard whispers of never bobbed to the surface. Indeed I don’t think they are listed on the cargo manifesto at all, anyway.
I think the container carrying the action men accessories/uniforms ended up in the waters off St Agnes (though I will probably have to update this later to confirm) as the only time I ever saw evidence of them was over there. Pictured are some Barbie/Cindy dolls dressed ready for combat in them during a rehearsal for St Agnes Mayday.
My computer mice were eventually sold and the money spent about as wisely as a 12 year old can. For weeks after the wreck and salvage operation, items were still being passed around the island as everyone had a little too much of everything. Everyone I knew wore ascot trainers and hoodies (I seem to remember some people had started tie-dyeing them, too). The massive tractor inner tubes had made their way onto the beaches as inflatable beach rings and all the toddlers looked alike in their new clothes. According to this amusing letter that we found in the loft a while ago, we were apparently one of a few who ventured through the official channels to declare the wheels we had salvaged (little, apparently, did it matter)…
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