Past Times: Lerwick boat ablaze at sea

From The Shetland Times, Friday 21st July, 1961

Lerwick boat ablaze at sea

The twice-decorated coxswain of Lerwick lifeboat, Mr John Sales, found himself on the other side of a sea drama on Wednesday evening, when his fishing boat, the Reward, caught fire in the Noss area, and he and his crew had to be rescued.

A great attempt was made to salvage the Reward, and although it was brought into the harbour still afloat and beached at the north end of the Market it appears to be a complete write-off.

Skipper Sales, with two of a crew, Ronnie Sales (a nephew), and James Burnett, had gone off to the fishing at lunch-time on Wednesday.

Just what happened is not known, but fire broke out in the engine room somewhere around 7.30pm. the three-man crew were unable to get near the seat of the outbreak and with a strong wind blowing the fire caught hold rapidly, and soon the entire stern was ablaze.

Fortunately, another local fishing boat, the Nil Desperandum, was only about a mile away at the time, and she immediately went to the rescue.

The Reward was burning fiercely when she came alongside, and the first job was to transfer the three-man crew to the Nil Desperandum. Then a line was put on board, and a twelve-mile tow to Lerwick started.

Around nine o’clock people in the Cunningsburgh area saw the blazing boat, and Shetland Coastguard received several messages about it, while Lerwick fire brigade was also alerted.

At 9.25 the maroons were fired, and from that moment the drama was watched by thousands of people. Lerwick, which had been fast asleep all day during the public holiday, suddenly woke up, and for the next couple of hours the scene at the Knab, at Twageos, and at the harbour was most animated.

A Skerries boat, the Swiftwing, was in the area, while the Norwegian rescue ship, J. M. Johansen, immediately put to sea along with Lerwick lifeboat.

Shortly before ten o’clock the Johansen was approaching the two boats, and the skipper radioed that the Reward was heavily on fire, but they would do their very best.

Twice during the tow the towing rope broke, and valuable time was lost as it was made secure again. All the time the tow was continuing the Johansen kept circling, and occasionally played a hose on the burning vessel. On one of these occasions, said Skipper James Wiseman, of the Nil Desperandum, the Norwegian bumped into the side of his vessel, causing some damage to the planking.

As the tow came within sight of those on the pier, Lerwick lifeboat came alongside to take on board firemen with a portable pump, and they continued to play water on the boat all the way to the beach at the north end.

The boat was beached about 11pm, and the fire brigade continued to play water on her.

Yesterday she was lying keeled over on her starboard side, and the damage is obviously beyond reasonable repair. Only about a third of the forepart remains in anything like salvageable condition, and there are signs of burning.

Yesterday Mr Sales declined to make any comment on the incident, other than confirming that the blaze had started in the engine room, and that no one on board had been able to get near it.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.