Thursday, 19 March 2015

Rubber to the rescue.

Last week I talked about the day to day lives of fishermen and their wives and mentioned also how hazardous it could be for their livelihood if the fishing trip was not a success.  There were other hazards for the fishermen, it was a hard life at sea and could often result in loss of life.
The sinking of a fishing trawler was, unfortunately, quite a regular occurrence. Many families in Grimsby and Kingston upon Hull, our near neighbours and also another large fishing port, lost husbands, fathers sons and brothers at sea.  Heavy seas, storms and ice would overwhelm the trawlers and cause the fishermen to abandon ship, often there wasn't even time for the men to take to the boats.  The lifeboats in the 1950's were of a rigid construction and made of wood and had to be swung out on derricks mounted to the decks and lowered into the water on ropes.  This took quite a while and involved a lot of effort, if the boat was taking on water and listing badly the lifeboats on one side of the boat would not be able to get down into the water.  If the boats were able to be launched and the men were able to get into them, they would then have to be rowed away from the sinking vessel in heavy seas and maybe in the pitch dark. These lifeboats were basically large, open rowing boats and would not last long in a heavy sea.
In 1954 representatives of the fishing industry gathered in Grimsby for a demonstration of the latest equipment to safeguard fishermen, rubber lifeboats!  They had been used to rescue the 8 man crew of the Icelandic trawler Gladour who had drifted for 22 hours in a gale off Iceland before being sighted and picked up by the trawler Hull City.  They all survived.  The skipper of Hull City (a Grimsby boat) was so impressed with the life saving capabilities of these new rubber life rafts he got permission to bring one back to Grimsby to show it to fishery representatives.
The new raft could be launched by one man by simply pulling on a single painter line attached to it,once it was in the water.  The valise burst open exposing the raft which inflated within 30 seconds. Half a minute later a canopy had unfolded and erected itself over the raft.  The raft could carry ten and gave the crew shelter from wind and spray, it was almost unsinkable and wouldn't turn over.  It carried emergency rations and distress flares and, providing they had been able to issue a Mayday call via the radio before abandoning ship, it would protect them far better until a boat could get to them and rescue the men.
The new rubber life rafts received an enthusiastic welcome.
 
In 1956 I was playing in the back garden when a knock came at our front door.  I knew someone was talking to our mam but didn't take much of an interest why.  A while later she called me in to tell me that my dad's boat, Osako had been sunk at sea but that he had been rescued and was alright.  Although my dad's boat the Osako didn't have the new rubber life saving rafts another Grimsby boat the Thessalonian did have them and when the skipper of the Thessalonian heard a distress call from the Osako he steamed toward them.
A newspaper report of the demonstration of the new rubber
life rafts and also the first rescue of fishermen from Grimsby
using the new life saving dinghies. 
The 28 year old Osako had sprung a leak in her fish hold below the water line and the pumps were unable to cope as the water levels rose.  The weather was rough, heavy seas and gale force winds.  The Thessalonian, which had been built the year before, rushed to the rescue.  The skipper of the Thessalonian, Harry Ellis, had seen the new raft being demonstrated  
 three months earlier but had no practical experience of their use, however he ordered they be made ready for use as the situation was
deteriorating quickly.  Heavy seas prevented him from approaching the stricken Osako so he went to the weather side and floated the rubber dinghies on a line to the crew of the sinking Osako who were now clinging to the rails of the vessel!  For two hours the dinghies were hauled back and forth until all 13 men of the crew of the Osako (including my dad) were safely aboard the Thessalonian.  Last to leave the Osako was the her skipper Harold Gladwell from Grimsby.  He tried to save his ship by attaching a towline but it had to be cut as it sank lower in the heavy seas.  The Thessalonian steamed for Torshaven, the capital of the Faroes and landed the rescued crew there, some were suffering from exposure.
 
This had been the first rescue of Grimsby fishermen using the new rubber dinghies and, following their huge success, it wasn't long before all fishing vessels registered in Grimsby became equipped with them.
The crew arrived back in Grimsby a week later Skipper Ellis said his crew had joked as they abandoned their sinking ship and jumped into the rubber dinghies! 
When my dad arrived home, having lost everything in the sinking Osaka, he was kitted out from head to foot in clothes given to him and the rest of the crew, by the Faroese fishing community.  Such was the camaraderie of the fishing fraternity!  He looked quite comical though as he was wearing a typical, very large flat cap worn by the Faroese fishermen, known in Grimsby as a "Scrob Hat"!  Scrob was/is the affectionate term for a Scandinavian fisherman. 
The rescued crew of the Osako after they had been landed at
the Faroes.  My dad is 3rd from the right on the back row.
(Minus his "Scrob Hat!" 
My dad didn't have much to say about the whole affair, he told our mam that reports about it had all been grossly exaggerated and that the rescue had been a very casual affair in flat seas!  The newspaper reports soon told a different tale though.
The old Osako was a steam engined vessel and was replaced a year or two later by a larger diesel engine boat.  My dad sailed in her for a while before moving to the Yesso of the same fishing company.  He remained in that boat as Chief Engineer until he died of cancer in 1977.