So… In 1968 Radio Caroline was off the air, with both ships confined in Amsterdam docks by The Offshore Supply Company seeking $45000 in unpaid fees, which were never forthcoming. The Caroline organization attempted to get back on air by renting the services of MV Oceaan VII, a ship formerly used offshore England by Radio 270, but the deal fell through when the owners were threatened with legal action.
At this point it is worth including a little of the story of another 'pirate', Radio Northsea International, because of a brief connection with Caroline. Two Swiss entrepreneurs bought a ship they named Mebo from their surnames Meister and Bollier. They kitted it out as a radio ship before realizing it was too small, so renamed it Angela to act as tender for a larger 174ft ship Mebo II. The radio ship looked amazing, the sides being crazily painted in diagonal zigzag patterns of fluorescent red, yellow and green portraying a mid-ship explosion. Radio Northsea International began broadcasts in Dutch and English in January 1970 with a powerful 105kW medium wave transmitter, and was capable of simultaneously transmitting on Short Wave and FM too.
In March 1970, RNI moved from Holland to the British Essex coast due to greater popularity in England, in the absence of Caroline.
But the British Labour Government took a different view. In April 1970, they amazingly activated a powerful jamming station - an action not even carried out during World War II - to block RNI. RNI then changed frequency to 1230khz, 244meters, deliberately very close to Radio One on 247 meters, the BBC's pop music channel to 'replace' the pirate stations closed down by the MOA in 1967. 5 days later the jamming frequency changed to match, causing interference not just to RNI but also Radio One in southeast areas. It was ironic that the government was creating the very problems they had accused the 'pirates' of causing!
Things became very political. There was to be a General Election in Britain in June, and it was thought the opposition Conservative party was less against the 'pirates' and would stop the jamming, and help introduce land-based commercial radio stations, a welcome step towards an alternative to the BBC monopoly. In June, 5 days before the election, RNI broadcast as 'Radio Caroline International" and actively urged its listeners to Vote Conservative. Caroline's founder Ronan O'Rahilly headed a campaign on land.
No-one knows for sure how much influence the campaign had on the general election results - but it was the first time people aged 18-21 could vote, there was an unexpected 10% swing and the Conservative Party ousted Labour to run the country.
However, pirate radio fans were to be disappointed. The jamming didn't stop. Disheartened, the station reverted to its Radio Northsea International name and sailed back to the Dutch coast. The jamming stopped. It is possible British governments had other reasons for not wanting the pirates to exist, kept secret from the general public. It has been suggested by some that the government suspected RNI was using its powerful short wave transmitter (whose purpose otherwise was unclear) to send coded messages to unfriendly countries such as the then-existing East Germany, though such accusations are unproved.
Like Caroline, RNI had a chequered history in its brief 4-year life. RNI was a rival to Veronica in Holland and in September 1970 went off the air after Veronica paid Mebo a large sum of money. RNI remained at anchor, and returned to the air in January 1971. Late one night in May, RNI's engine room was fire-bombed. The fire was later extinguished and the station got back on the air. The raiders had come from the nearby Veronica ship in a zodiac rubber boat, hoping to force Mebo II to sail into Dutch waters for help and thus get impounded. Surprisingly, given that the events took place in International waters and beyond Holland's jurisdiction, Dutch authorities arrested and charged 5 men, including a Veronica director and an advertising manager. The 'gangsters' were all sentenced to one year in prison.
RNI continued broadcasting from off the Dutch coast until 31st August 1974 when Holland passed its own Marine Offences Act outlawing the pirates. Mebo II and MV Angela remained in dock in Rotterdam, Holland until 1977, when they sailed to Africa. They were sold to Libya to stand in for their land-based radio stations during refurbishment. In 1981 both ships, having no further use, were used for target practice by the Libyan Navy and sunk in the Mediterranean Sea!
Meanwhile, back with the Radio Caroline Story:
Following the Caroline/RNI connection, stories came out that Ronan O'Rahilly proposed Caroline Television. He would get two Super Constellation aircraft that would take turns flying in circles in international air space over the North Sea, transmitting TV to England. Nothing ever came of it: it was more typical Ronan hot air…
In May 1972 the original ship MV Caroline was auctioned in Holland for $4000, and was scrapped. MV Mi Amigo was also auctioned for scrap, or so it was thought. But it was bought for about $3000 by two members of a Free Radio organization wanting to restore it "as a Radio Museum", but in reality, wanting to get it back on air. With only a modest transmitter mast, it did so off the Dutch coast in October on '199' - initially announcing no station name, until 'Radio Caroline' was used in December.
There was a 'mutiny' on the Mi Amigo. Because the crew had not been paid, Captain van der Kamp arranged for the ship to be towed into Ijmuiden harbor, Holland, where it was impounded. Various legal wrangles ensued, but somehow they managed to get back to sea and on-air again mid January 1973. One 'hero' to play a huge part in Caroline's miracles was Peter 'Chicago', an engineer previously connected with the RNI ship. His expertise was to help Caroline on the air on many occasions, over many years.
Neighbor Radio Veronica's ship ran aground in a storm in April: Caroline did a deal and filled in as both Caroline on '199' and Veronica on '259' (actually 253m, 1187KHz). The deal brought in valuable funds, enough to pay for a new transmitter mast, a 180ft aluminium square-section lattice type painstakingly constructed out at sea, taking three months. Throughout its life, Mi Amigo lost its transmitter mast in bad storms several times. Replacements ranged from a simple tubular 'pole' to a lattice of triangular or square cross-section. This latest 'Veronica-funded' one lasted only a few months. The next and final mast (as it turned out) was built on land and again erected out at sea. It had originally been intended for yet another offshore pirate, Radio Atlantis, and stories vary regarding how Caroline came to get it…
There was a lot of 'swapping around' of radio organizations around this time. At various times Mi Amigo was home for others including Radio Atlantis and Radio Mi Amigo. Radio Seagull was created to provide an album format, popular on USA progressive rock stations, and became Radio Caroline again in February 1974. This format is now synonymous with Caroline, still calling itself "Europe's first album station".
At the end of August 1974 Holland fell in line with many other European countries and passed its own Marine Offences Act, outlawing the radio ships. Radios Veronica, Atlantis and Northsea International all closed down. Caroline, not for the first time, boldly continued, moving their offices to Spain, and the ship back to the outer Thames estuary, England, to escape any possible Dutch authorities 'raid'. They moved anchorage several times seeking a suitable spot avoiding danger to shipping, while mainly staying equidistant between the counties of Essex and Kent, east of London.
Radio Caroline and the Dutch service Radio Mi Amigo continued broadcasting from MV Mi Amigo for a further four years, but not without incident. Several times they suffered broken anchor chains in storms and drifted, usually onto sandbanks. Their biggest fear was to drift inside British territorial waters, whereupon the ship could be legally seized and impounded. For some years a huge ex-oil-drilling-rig anchor, attached to an equally mighty chain, was installed on a steel girder slide on one side of the ship, to enable rapid deployment should they find themselves drifting. But often they did not realize they were.
In November 1975 Mi Amigo's anchor chain broke again and they drifted onto Long Sands sandbank. A few days later a ship was sent out to tow them off, then left them at a different anchorage than normal. The crew assumed they were safely back in international waters and went back on air, but they were mistaken. The ship was raided by British police and four people, the Captain, engineer Peter Chicago, and two DJ's Simon Barrett and Michael Lloyd, were taken ashore and subsequently charged and fined.
While the authorities were now starting to get serious about this pirate, at least the RAF were easier-going. They enjoyed 'buzzing' the ship at extremely close range, especially when someone was already scared stiff while at the top of the mast carrying out repairs. Their rescue helicopter was called out on several occasions. One was when engineer Peter Chicago went fishing in a dingy, but couldn't get back when its engine failed. Caroline called the Coastguard to report "someone in a rubber dingy" and the RAF helicopter came out and hoisted him up. When they asked, he had to tell them he'd come from the Mi Amigo. Instead of taking him to land (and probable arrest) they kindly dropped him back on the ship! It made their paperwork easier…
Actions against anyone assisting Caroline escalated. In 1976 an ordinary Radio Caroline fan, John Jackson-Hunter, was prosecuted and imprisoned for 60 days for displaying a Radio Caroline sticker in his car. In Liverpool three men were given suspended sentences of 90 days in prison plus $750 costs each, also for displaying Caroline car stickers.
This editorial assistant, Dave Reid, went on an organized boat trip from the small harbour of Brightlingsea to visit Mi Amigo in August 1976. We circled the ship a few times, and pitched up and down alongside for a while.
As we returned to Brightlingsea, we were intercepted by the Essex police launch "Watchful" that came alongside and boarded us. They turned out to be officials from the Government's Home Office. They had presumably been tipped off about our trip and set about interviewing each of us regarding our actions that day. They seemed to take particular interest in one young chap, and then in the trip organizer, David Hutson, who admitted throwing over a few pop record play requests and letters onto the Mi Amigo.
With hindsight, we decided that the first young man must have been a Home Office "plant" who infiltrated our trip to witness any illegal goings-on. Full facts came to light later. Gary Skull was a detective constable from the Police Headquarters Drugs Intelligence Section. He pretended to be an 'anorak' (affectionate term for a visiting pirate radio fan, from the weatherproof jackets they always wore) and got on the trip list, and talked with everyone on the boat telling them he was a free radio fan with the name 'Simon Martin'.
He had witnessed the trip organizer, Dave Hutson, handing over newspapers and mail to the guys on Mi Amigo. Skull also stated Hutson was wearing a Caroline badge, which was promoting the station, forbidden by the 1967 Marine Offences Act.
Hutson, 27, appeared at Southend on Sea Magistrates court in January 1977 - after which peaceful protests were made outside by Free Radio supporters (including this assistant!) with banners - alongside ex-commando Arthur Ord, 68, tender boat owner. Ord had a former conviction for taking a passenger off the radio ship.
Miss Jeraine Roberts, for the prosecution, told the court that following an advertisement for boat trips to view the MV Mi Amigo, Gary Skull posed as a passenger aboard Ord's boat. She said each of the 12 passengers bought a 15p Radio Caroline badge, offered by Hutson. Alongside the Mi Amigo, Hutson threw passenger's requests for records on board, plus newspapers and letters.
Neither Hutson nor Ord could afford a lawyer. Both pleaded 'guilty' to the charges, contravening sections of the Marine Offences Act. Each was fined 125 Pounds with 20 Pounds costs. "The fines were met with gasps and groans from the public gallery, where Free Radio Supporters had gathered" a newspaper reported. Hutson said afterwards "You can do burglary and get less. I don't see what we have done wrong".
In January 1979, the old ship sprang a leak and a lifeboat was called to rescue the crew. Caroline returned to the air in April. The first record played was Fool (If You Think It's Over), by Chris Rea, dedicated to the British Home Office.
Dave Reid's Mi Amigo Trip 2 - May 1979
A group of us left Brightlingsea harbour in Essex in a small motor launch in May 1979 to reach the MV Mi Amigo moored in international waters near the Thames Estuary. Playing it cool during the voyage, lest there be a spy in our midst (having happened before), organizers Georgina and Albert Hood kept their cards close to their chests until they got to know their passengers better… only when we arrived, and the sea conditions allowed, did they reveal that we'd actually be able to board the ship, outlawed by the British Government's Marine Offences Act of 1967.
I took photos of all areas, including the messy accommodation (but then you have to consider these guys were a 'band on the run'), the galley (with new supplies… where did they come from?) and, the emergency chain and anchor on its slipway on one side of the ship.
In theory the ship had engines, but in practice it was many years since they had worked or known to have worked. The chances are that they couldn't have been relied upon in an emergency. They also had a spare generator fixed on the open deck, to back up the main generators down in the hold along with the transmitters. Keeping the station on the air was important, to earn the advertisers' money, which kept the whole project going. Just.
We all returned to shore well satisfied. It's been alleged that exchanges of crew
We all returned to shore well satisfied. It’s been alleged that exchanges of crew personnel sometimes took place amidst these harmless enthusiasts' pilgrimages… Of course I couldn't possibly comment… To assist an unauthorized radio station in any way, would have been against the Law, after all.
Dave Reid's Mi Amigo Trip 3 - June1979
I went on another Caroline visit from Brightlingsea with a fresh set of fans, but this time the elements were not so kind, and the seas became just too rough to come alongside Mi Amigo. We had a few titbits, things that we wanted to donate before leaving…. We tried to toss a few across the gap, loaves of bread, cans of beans, until a wiser person suggested we stop before breaking a window, or cause bodily injury. In the end we had to sail home before the weather became any worse. It had been nice to meet the Mi Amigo again. I wasn't to know that it would be for the last time ever….
The 59-year-old MV Mi Amigo's incredible luck finally ran out on 19th March 1980. The anchor chain broke in a force 10 storm, and the ship drifted ten miles onto another sandbank. That action didn't initially cause the sinking. The ship had been at sea constantly without any dry-dock repairs or serious hull maintenance for many years, and the hull thickness had rusted down to only a few sixteenths of an inch in places. The constant storm-lashing rocked the ship back and forth on the sandbank, finally breaking through the lower hull, causing terminal leaks.
The crew - consisting only of 4 DJs and one canary (named Wilson after former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson) - were taken off the ship by lifeboat from Sheerness in Kent. They were probably unable to apply the usual repair method, of pouring concrete into the lower hold leak, as it was likely to be behind the existing concrete poured there years before as ballast to improve rough-weather stability.
The Mi Amigo sank in only 8-16 feet of water. Its contents were never recovered, including an invaluable and unique vinyl record collection. The 160-foot square-cross-section steel lattice transmitter mast fell down 6 years later. Records have since been reportedly washed up on Essex beaches.