Two Wrecks in the Shetlands.
Stromness Motor Life-boat's Journeys of 260 and 240 Miles.
DURING March and April two vessels were wrecked on the Shetland Islands.
They were both vessels sailing from Aberdeen. One was a trawler, the Ben Doran, and, in spite of courageous efforts to rescue her crew, all were drowned. The other was the mailsteamer St. Sunniva, which plies between Scotland, Orkney and Shetland.
All on board were rescued.
Both wrecks were notable for the efforts at rescue made by the new Motor Life-boat stationed at Stromness in the Orkneys. In the case of the Ben Doran, she had a journey, out and home, of 260 miles. This is the longest journey on service which has been made by any Motor Life-boat, and it was made in the worst conditions of weather.
In the case of the St. Sunniva, she travelled 240 miles. In the first case she arrived to find that the crew had perished. In the second case, they had been rescued by other means. But though they were without result, these two journeys are a notable proof, not only of the endurance of the Crew, but of the very fine sea-going qualities of the Barnett type of Motor Life-boat.
The Vee Skerries.
The Ben Doran was wrecked on the Vee Skerries, a reef which lies to the west of the Shetlands. The nearest land is Papa Stour, three and a half miles to the south-east. The reef is imperfectly charted, and is thus described by the Town Clerk of Lerwick :— " The old Norse names themselves are suggestive. The name Vee Skerries means ' the skerries that swim in the surface,' and the Ormel, the principal skerry, simply means the broken remnant.
There is a bad tideway in the neighbourhood of the Vee Skerries, and the Atlantic swell coming in from deep water, striking the shallows and being unhampered by backwash, breaks over them in a way that astonishes even experienced seamen. There is approximately a square mile of skerries and blind rocks, and, unfortunately, the Ben Doran had reached about the centre of this area before she was held fast. In the weather and sea conditions existing at the time, the position of the crew was really absolutely hopeless, but nothing was known in Lerwick on the Saturday night as to the exact position of the trawler, the report being simply that she was on the Vee Skerries." The Saturday night in question was 29th March, and the news of the wreck, which had been brought by another trawler, reached Lerwick shortly-before five in the afternoon. The District Officer of Coastguard, Mr. Faint, at once called out the Board of Trade's Lifesaving Apparatus. A gale was blowing, with a very heavy sea and snow squalls.
The Apparatus was taken by motor lorry to Ronas Voe, on the west side of the mainland, and there embarked on the steam trawler Arora. Before leaving Lerwick the Coastguard Officer telegraphed to the Life-boat Station at Stromness information of the action which he was taking.
The skipper of the Arora, though he had fished on the west side of Shetland for thirty years, had never been very near to Vee Skerries, always giving them a wide berth. Nor could anyone be found at Ronas Voe who knew the Skerries. At two in the morning of the 30th March, the Arora put out, with the intention of approaching the wreck as soon as day broke.
Shortly after the Life-saving Apparatus left Lerwick, Mr. G. T. Kay, who had become Honorary Secretary of the Lerwick Branch of the Institution a short time before, when it was decided to establish a Life-boat Station there— learnt that the motor haddock boat Smiling Morn was lying at Voe, Olnafirth.
Mr. Kay knows something of the Vee Skerries, having been ashore on one of them. He felt that a smaller vessel, like the Smiling Morn, with a fouroared boat in tow, might be of more value than the Arora; so, with Mr. John Falconer, master of the trawler Boscobell, and Mr. W. H. Dougall, of the Missionsto Seamen, he went at once to Voe, and enlisted the help of the Smiling Morn.
That no time might be lost, and that they might be on the scene of the wreck by daybreak, they put to sea at once, with a 20-feet boat in Jow, and made for Housa Voe in Papa Stour (the nearest island to the Vee Skerries) where they hoped to find a man with good knowledge of the reef. Even by daylight the entrance to Housa Voe is very difficult.
To enter it, as they did, in the middle of a pitch-black night, with half a gale of wind and a heavy sea was an act of great daring. When entering the creek they actually passed within a few yards of a sunken rock, the position of which was only disclosed by a heavy sea breaking close alongside. At Housa Voe, the Smiling Morn took on board Mr.
John Henderson, a crofter, who had at once agreed to join the rescue-party, and put to sea again. She reached the Vee Skerries just before five in the morning.
The Arora had already arrived.
Men in die Rigging.
A very heavy sea was running, with a strong gale blowing, and the Ben Doran could be seen, high in the centre of the Skerries, stern to wind. The seas were washing over her and the rescuers thought that they could see five men in the rigging, with the spray blowing right over them.
The Arora steamed round the Skerries, but could find no place from which it would be possible to fire lines to the Ben Doran. She lay in the middle of the reef beyond reach. The Smiling Morn then made her attempt, the Arora standing by. She worked her way into ths broken water as near as she could to the wreck, until she was stopped by off-lying reefs. She went in so far, in fact, that those on board the Arora doubted if she would get back. She returned in safety, however, and reported that seven men could be seen in the rigging and that they had waved to her. Mr. Kay, and those with him on the Smiling Morn, thought that the Arora might get within 500 or 600 yards of the wreck. But at such a distance it would still be far out of range of the rockets. It was clear that the men in the rigging of the Ben Doran were beyond hope of rescue.
The justice of this decision was confirmed two months later by Mr. Kay, who spent his holiday in his own boat on the west side of the Shetlands and visited the Vee Skerries. Of this visit he wrote: " I managed to land on the two main portions of the Vee Skerries and was able, with the assistance of two friends, to fix the position of the ill-fated Ben Doran, on the day of her wreck, as at least 600 yards to the westward of the nearest skerry. Even had a landing been effected on the said skerry—the only means of approach due to the seething reefs all round the other points of the compass—it is abundantly clear that rescue would have been hopeless." A Brave Attempt.
The Coastguard Officer, who had watched the Smiling Morn's brave attempt, said that wind and sea could scarcely have been worse; and what the conditions were may be judged from the fact that a " tide lump," which just touched the stern of the Smiling Morn herself, fell right aboard the 20-feet boat which she was towing, and the boat simply collapsed and disappeared.
The spirit of the men who made the attempt may be judged by the following letter from a resident in Shetland :— " John Jamieson [the skipper of the Smiling Morn] would have gone on the reef if allowed. . . . He said that he did not mind the loss of his boat, or even the loss of his own life. " What was it worth in the face of what he was seeing," was the drift of one of his sayings. He was determined to go on, and I understand there was almost a fight on board the Smiling Morn. At any rate, the others tied up Jamieson, and locked him up so that he was unable to go on further." The position was, in fact, hopeless.
Brave men had done all that could be done. There was nothing for it but to give up the attempt. Both boats left the reef, the Arora steaming round it once more before she went, and as soon as the Coastguard Officer reached Lerwick again he informed the Strom-ness Life-boat Station of the failure of the attempts at rescue.
This message was received at Stromness at four in the afternoon of Sunday, 30th March. The Crew were assembled and at 4.45 the Life-boat set out. A gale was blowing from South to South- East. The sea was very heavy. The visibility was poor. The Life-boat made for Scalloway, a journey 134 miles distant, and a telegram was sent asking that food, fuel and a pilot should be ready waiting for the Life-boat's arrival.
She travelled through the night, reaching Scalloway at 7.30 on the following morning, 31st March. She took the pilot and fuel on board, and left again at 9 o'clock. The distance to the Vee Skerries was about 25 miles. She arrived at noon. Nothing of the trawler was then visible but the gallows. The Life-boat thoroughly searched the Skerries, but there was no sign of life. She returned to Scalloway, arriving about five in the afternoon. At 6.30 on the following morning she left for Stromness in the teeth of the southerly gale, and arrived at eleven that night. She had been away from her station for just over fifty-five hours, and had travelled altogether 260 miles in the worst conditions of weather.
In recognition of these gallant attempts, the Institution has made the following awards :— To the Acting-Coxswain, WILLIAM LINKLA.TEB, and the Stromness Crew, £10 each.
To the. Pilot whom they took on board at Scalloway, £3 19*.
To Mr. KAY, an inscribed pair of Prismatic Binocular Glasses.
To Mr. JOHN FALCONER, master of the Soscobell, a special Letter of Thanks.
To Mr. DOUOALL, of the Missions to Seamen, a special Letter of Thanks and an award of £5.
To Mr. J. J. JAMUHSON, master of the Smiling Morn, an inscribed pair of Prismatic Binoculars and a monetary award of £5.
To each of the remaining three men of the Smiling Morn, a monetary award of £5.
To Mr. HENDBBSON, crofter of Hoosa Voe, an award of £4.
To EDWABD P. ABIE, the owner of the lost boat, £11 (the value of the boat).
A sum of 15s. has also been paid to Mr. J. J.
JAMIESON as the owner of the Smiling Morn, for fuel consumed.
The Wreck of the St. Sunniva.
NINE days after the Stromness Life-boat returned from Vee Skerries, she was again called out to a wreck in the Shetlands. Shortly after five in the morning of 10th April a message came through by wireless from the Coastguard at Wick to say that the s.s. St.
Sunniva had gone ashore on Mousa, on the east side of the Shetlands.
A moderate south-westerly wind was blowing and the sea was moderate, but there was a thick fog. The Life-boat was under way half an hour after the message was received. Four hours later a second message came to say that the thirty passengers on board the steamer and her crew had all been safely landed in the steamer's own boats, and a telegram was sent to Fair Isle to recall the Life-boat, if possible, but it was unsuccessful.
She reached Mousa at six in the evening, and learnt from a steamer that all on board the St. Sunniva had been rescued. The weather was still very thick, so the Life-boat made carefully for Lerwick, where she arrived at 7.20. Owing to the fog the Coxswain decided to remain there for the night, but later, as the fog had lifted, and the moon was shining brightly, it was decided to set out for Stromness at once, and the Life-boat left at 11.45 p.m., and arrived at two o'clock on the following afternoon. She had then been absent from her station for thirty-six hours, and had travelled 240 miles. Extra monetary awards were made to Coxswain and Crew.
The maximum speed of the Stromness Life-boat on trials was 8-69 knots.
It deserves to be recorded that her average speed on her journey of 260 miles to Vee Skerries and back, carried out in the worst conditions of weather, was approximately 7 knots, and on her journey of 240 miles to Mousa and Lerwick and back—when she had not to face the same severe winds and seas, but was handicapped by fog during the outward journey—it was approximately 8J knots, that is to say almost her maximum speed.
A Motor Life-boat for Lerwick.
Before these wrecks occurred the Institution had decided to establish aLife-boat Station in the Shetlands, this having been made possible by the system of coast communication which has recently been organised in the Shetlands by the Board of Trade.
Only a boat of the most powerful type would be suitable to safeguard an area made up of a widely-scattered group of many islands, and the boat laid down is the Barnett Twin-Screw type, the same as the Stromness boat. She is 51 feet by 13 feet 6 inches, with a displacement of 26£ tons. She will be driven by two 60 h.p. engines, giving her a speed of over 8| knots, and she will carry enough petrol to be able to travel 176 miles at her cruising speed of 7£ knots without refuelling. She will have 160 aircases and eight watertight compartments. She will be provided with a cabin, with seats for ten people, and in rough weather she will be able to take 100 people on board.
This boat should be ready in July of this year, and she will be stationed at Lerwick, where Mr. Kay, who so greatly distinguished himself in the attempts to rescue the crew of the Ben Doran, had already accepted the position of Honorary Secretary of the Station at the end of last year..