North Sea sailing holiday was almost fatal

The converted herring drifter Scottish Maid pictured in Hamburg in 1961. The boat was jointly skippered by Lawrie Nicholson, Rear Commodore of Hartlepool Yacht Club, and club secretary Harold Wilson.
The converted herring drifter Scottish Maid pictured in Hamburg in 1961. The boat was jointly skippered by Lawrie Nicholson, Rear Commodore of Hartlepool Yacht Club, and club secretary Harold Wilson.

A holiday to remember ended with a nightmare sea crossing in 1961.

The crew of Scottish Maid, a converted fishing boat, had hoped for a enjoyable trip when they set sail for Germany with a message of goodwill from the Mayor of West Hartlepool.

The crew of Scottish Maid enjoy a good time in Hamburg in 1961.

The crew of Scottish Maid enjoy a good time in Hamburg in 1961.

Instead, the return voyage saw the vessel battle heavy seas and almost capsize. Indeed, the eight amateur sailors aboard witnessed 30ft waves breaking over the bows at one point.

“We enjoyed our holiday, but we are all glad to be back in Hartlepool this morning,” Harold Wilson, secretary of Hartlepool Yacht Club, told the Mail on June 16, 1961.

The crew of Scottish Maid - Harold, Lawrie Nicholson, Bill Baker, William Nicholson, Robert Price, Bob Ireland, Tommy Noton and John Kindon - had planned the trip for months.

Indeed, the West Hartlepool mayor - Alderman D.R. Ashton - provided several presents, as well as the message of good will, for the men to deliver to the Mayor of Hamburg.

“Soon after we left Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the Elba estuary, we ran into a really fierce storm. The boat was thrown about like a matchbox.”

Harold Wilson, secretary of Hartlepool Yacht Club in 1961.

But, in the first of a series of problems, the present plan fell flat. On arrival in Hamburg, the men were told the mayor was on holiday in Switzerland - and his deputy was away as well.

Instead, the Hartlepool sailors called on Hamburg Yacht Club and, after exchanging gifts and pennants, invited the German sailors to visit Hartlepool in the future.

“We were told that they would do so if they ever had the opportunity,” said Harold.

The rest of the visit to Hamburg was spent sight-seeing, with the Hartlepool sailors enjoying a visit to the famous Zillertal beer garden - where they were serenaded by musicians.

A second warm welcome awaited the crew when they sailed up the Kiel Canal to Copenhagen a few days later; then it was back to Hamburg to refuel and set sail for home.

“Soon after we left Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the Elba estuary, we ran into a really fierce storm. The boat was thrown about like a matchbox,” said Harold.

“We were unable to exceed half speed, so decided to turn back. But, after hearing a more favourable weather forecast, we carried on instead - arriving in Hartlepool 12 hours late.”

The Scottish Maid was finally spotted within sight of Hartlepool just as dawn broke on June 16. Happy reunions were held after the vessel was safely tied up in the Victoria Dock.

As most of the sailors headed home to catch up on much-needed sleep, so Harold added: “It is no fun being miles from shore, knowing your boat might capsize at any time.”

* Do you have any memories to share of Hartlepool’s past - recent or ancient? Email details to Memory Lane writer Sarah Stoner at sarah.stoner@jpress.co.uk