The Jean Stephen was built in 1917 by Alexander Hall & Company of Aberdeen as the Savitri for William Barrett of Grimsby to began her fishing career under her registration number of GY1028. However she was immediately requisitioned by the Admiralty for minelaying and later minesweeping duties. After the conclusion of the war she was released by the Navy in 1919 and and finally entered the Grimsby fishing fleet operated by William Barrett. In subsequent years the trawler passed through a number of other owners before being purchased by her final owners, Stephen Fishing Company Ltd. of Aberdeen, in 1936 and named Jean Stephen (A420).
On 18th January 1938 she left the shelter of Wick harbour skippered by John Cowie with a crew of twelve men en route to the fishing grounds when a sudden blizzard struck and the vessel was driven on to the beach in Sinclair Bay. A radio fault prevented the skipper from contacting Wick radio, but the Aberdeen trawler Strathdee relayed the distress call. As soon as the distress call was received Mr J. Addison, District Officer, Wick, and a coastguard set off by car with light rescue equipment on the five miles journey to Sinclair Bay. Soon after four vehicles followed bringing a party of coastguards and the rocket brigade …. 13 men in all. As they made their way to the scene they could see red flares being fired from the Jean Stephen marking her position near the Reiss golf links.
They found her rolling heavily in the surf and could see the lifeboat attempting to reach her. They quickly assembled the rescue apparatus and around 11.30 pm, as the lifeboat abandoned a final attempt to get alongside and withdrew a line was fired across the vessel. By now the tide was ebbing and the vessel had stopped rolling so, although she had a heavy list to port, the crew were out of immediate danger. The rescue crew stood by in case the crew were forced to abandon ship until, by 2.30 am she was high and dry and the Coastguard were able to assist eleven of the crew to leave the ship and help them onto the beach. The skipper and mate remained on board for another hour as it was hoped that the Jean Stephen might be refloated on the rising tide. The rescue equipment was also left in place for a return later when it was intended to attempt to refloat the ship. Finally the last two men came ashore also hoping to return to the wreck later in the day. However as morning dawned it was obvious that weather conditions would prevent any attempt to refloat the trawler and she was abandoned to become a total wreck.
A court of inquiry was later held over 2 days commencing 30 June 1958. The outcome saw both the skipper and mate being found at fault for the loss. The skipper, John Cowie has his certificate suspended for 12 months and fined £100 towards court expenses. The mate, George Christie had his certificate suspended for 6 months with a fine of £50. The formal report is included below for those wishing further detail.