By RYAN TAYLOR
A SALVAGE operation is due to get underway today for Stuart Hill’s boat, which lost power and drifted 300 yards in choppy weather conditions at the weekend sparking yet another maritime rescue of the man dubbed “Captain Calamity”.
Mr Hill, owner of the self-styled Crown dependency of Forvik, was picked up by the Aith Lifeboat on Sunday night after his home-made twin engine vessel got into difficulty.
The long term campaigner for independence for Shetland, who has lived with a reputation as a poor seaman since his turbulent arrival in Shetland seven years ago, said the only reason he got in the boat at all was to move it to a safer place after the weather deteriorated.
He said the engines had become flooded by the waves of water which came over the top of the boat, leaving him with no power.
“I was just getting clear of the harbour when the engines stalled, and I started drifting into the north passage between Forvik and Papa Stour.”
Mr Hill put his anchor down in a bid to stop the craft from drifting out into the Atlantic, before being found close into the shore by the crew of Coastguard rescue helicopter Oscar Charlie. He was retrieved by the lifeboat, before being taken back to Aith.
Mr Hill had to put his faith in his vessel’s in-built flotation device, designed to stop the craft from sinking altogether. But his first priority was still to retrieve the boat from where he had left it.
An initial plan to salvage the vessel came to nothing, and since then his boat has been lost to the waves, before turning up again battered and half buried in sand.
“The boat was anchored when I left it. I had arranged for somebody to take me to it on Monday, but the conditions turned out to be not suitable. On Tuesday evening, before I was able to get anybody else to take me to it, the boat was gone.”
Before long Mr Hill secured the use of another boat. However his own boat was later discovered beached not far from where he had anchored. One engine was still in place, but the other was buried in the sand.
“I heard from somebody in Papa Stour who had found the boat in Kirk Sands, which was basically in front of the boat when I anchored it. It ended up buried in the sand with six inches of the gunwale showing.”
Mr Hill is hoping the boat will be in a fit enough condition to use again when he is finally able to inspect it today.
If not, he will at least “salvage” some of the equipment from it.
Friends of Mr Hill who have already been helping him in his time of need have plucked out the expensive outboard motors and taken them to the mainland for resuscitation.
“I’m going over with some equipment on Friday to dig it out and hopefully refloat it. I’m hoping the boat is sturdy enough to have withstood the treatment it’s had.”
Even if the boat does sail again, there are plenty who would say Mr Hill should stick to terra firma, with his reputation as a calamitous mariner preceding him wherever he goes.
But Mr Hill insisted that reputation had always been unjustified.
Mr Hill first came to prominence in 2001 when he was the cause of eight emergency call outs while making his way up to Shetland from his native Essex in a 14ft boat.
The call outs, he said, were made by other people on land who became unnecessarily concerned about his welfare.
“This is one thing I would like to put to bed, but it seems to follow me around. What people don’t realise is that a lot of that was based on the lifeboat call outs, which were generated by folk on land.
“The lifeboat would come out and they would know perfectly well who I was and what I was doing. When you look at what I achieved – to get up here from Suffolk in a 14ft open boat non stop was no mean achievement, and that’s what people should be looking at.”
Mr Hill said he was “extremely grateful” to the men behind Sunday’s rescue operation for carrying out “the brilliant job” that they did.
He added he would not be putting his life and the lives of his rescuers at further risk by staying in the island over the winter months.
“I’m taking on board what everybody is saying – that it is a dangerous place and maybe not suitable for year round occupation.
“I intend to make sure everything is tied down and as sturdy as I can make it and if it’s all still there next spring I’ll be delighted.”
However, the incident has not put him off going back to the island in the future.
“What I’m doing in Forvik – I believe it is important and I hope people will realise I am doing something that I think will be good for Shetland.”
The maverick land-owner took up residence in the uninhabited 2.5 acre Forwick Holm off Papa Stour earlier this year after acquiring it from Papa resident Mark King.
Mr Hill, who claims to have evidence the Crown never acquired ownership of Shetland from Norway, renamed it Forvik Island before declaring it a Crown dependency and inviting people to apply for full citizenship of the new micro-nation.
Since then he has been busily sailing back and fore in his vessel, which some have criticised for being unsuitable for the often choppy waters in the sound.
On that note, Mr Hill said his vessel had been designed as a “load carrying boat”, which had proved useful by ferrying up to three tonnes of supplies to help build his Nissen-hut style accommodation block, which he has since built on the island.