16th August 2017

Veteran sailor back to try North Sea trip again

An 84-year-old lone yachtsman whose beloved boat dramatically sank in the North Sea has returned to Shetland for another crack at sailing to Norway.

Julian Mustoe spent nearly a year living in Lerwick on his vessel Harrier of Down but was left heartbroken when she went under while being towed to safety in October 2015.

The round the world explorer lost all his possessions bar a small grab bag with his passport and bank cards.

But now he is back – thanks to a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign that raised £10,000 for his new vessel Zepherus.

With the sun shining at Victoria Pier on Tuesday, Mr Mustoe remained undeterred from the challenge.

“I’ve lived on a boat for 20 years,” he said.

“So it’s the life that I know.”

Looking back to the fateful day, the experienced sailor encountered steering trouble, with a “stainless steel brick” giving way between the rudder and tiller.

The weather had been good, though winds from the east, he said increased to force seven and eight.

Mr Mustoe, originally from Hertfordshire, deployed a sea anchor to wait for a change but the steering faltered.

“The disintegration of a solid lump of stainless steel was the very last equipment failure that I had anticipated,” said Mr Mustoe.

He was stuck in the middle of the North Sea – 100 miles from Norway and 100 miles from Shetland.

Shetland Coastguard deemed he was too far from the isles and a ship was sent from the Norwegian Coastguard to take him to Norway.

The rescue vessel Bergen was a “small warship with a full naval crew,” said Mr Mustoe. He agreed to scramble off Harrier onto a RIB and was taken onto the Bergen.

He said he agreed with the captain that his stricken vessel should be towed at a slow speed and he went to get some rest in a cabin.

Though when he awoke his trusty yacht was sinking.

“I went to the ship’s bridge from which I could see my lovely little boat struggling for her life,” he said.

“Slowly she sank lower into the water. One last time her bow came up out of the water as if she were gasping for breath.”

He was stunned, and said it was “like watching an old friend drown”.

“I thought ‘you’re now in the hands of the professionals and all will be well’, as you might. The professionals screwed up and they don’t give a damn.”

He maintains the boat was towed too quickly, forcing the vessel beneath the water.

“That’s the boat that carried me all around the world and through much worse weather than I had then.

“I was pretty stunned. It was difficult to know what to say. Not only because I had no boat, [but] it was all of my possessions. Everything in here [Zephyrous] is new.

“[I had] the contents of a little waterproof case. Fortunately, I had my passport and bank cards. Everything else went to the bottom because I thought I didn’t need to take very much onto the ship, because these guys are the professionals. They know what to do and they will do the right thing.”

Mr Mustoe, a retired teacher, said he had sought compensation from the Norwegian coastguard, to no avail.

He said the bad weather was uncomfortable but wasn’t dangerous.

This time he plans to travel to Bergen with a back-up plan – he’s carrying an emergency rudder onboard.

“It’s stored below; if the rudder fails and I have a steering failure I have another this time.”

With a fresh adventure on the horizon, Mr Mustoe has been overwhelmed with the support he has received.

“Many people have contributed to the crowdfunding, many people I don’t even know,” he said.

“People have been very generous and I’m much indebted to a whole group of people who contributed.

“I live on a retired teacher’s pension and £10,000 is a lot of money.”

About Adam Guest

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as a senior news reporter at The Press and Journal, The Barnsley Chronicle and as a freelance reporter for The Doncaster Free Press. Alongside news reporting I specialise in music and sports journalism. Pork pie lover.

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