As the next January storm looks set to hit us this week, the story of the loss of the G Koch reminds us all of the tremendous forces nature can throw at us.
Shipyard : Thomas Turnbull and Sons Ltd., Whitby (Yard No 104)
Launched : 23.07.1888
Dimensions : 260.7′ x 36.3′ x 16.5′
Tonnage : 1609 gt., 1202 nt.
Engines : Triple expansion steam engine by Blair and Co.140 hp.
Owners : Svendsen and Christensen A/S D/S, Copenhagen
Registered : Odense
The steamship Excelsior was launched for her original owners H Baxter and Co of Hull in 1888 and served with them for four years before she was sold to Svendsen and Christensen of Copenhagen in 1892 and renamed the G Koch. Almost twenty years of service for these owners came to an end when she ran aground near Girdleness south of Aberdeen around midnight on Saturday 12th January, 1913.
She was en route from Christiana (modern day Oslo) to Burntisland with a cargo of pit props when she came ashore in an easterly storm near Girdleness. She had a crew of eighteen aboard under the command of Captain Jorgensen. The ship’s position was dangerous as she had run aground on a rocky shore and was being pounded by a heavy swell from the east. The plight of the ship and the crew was spotted by the men on watch at the nearby Girdleness lighthouse who spotted the distress rockets fired by the G Koch’s crew and the local rocket brigade were immediately called to the scene. Lines were fired onto the deck of the ship but it was extremely difficult to rig up the apparatus as the lines kept snagging in the wreckage being swept off the ship. The G Koch had also taken on a significant list making movements on the slippery decks of the ship very dangerous and difficult. One line was secured at the ship end but it was useless for the breeches buoy as it was entangled in wreckage inshore of the ship.
At this point five of the crewmen decided to attempt to make it ashore along a rope line that had been secured from the beach. Four of them men reached safety but, sadly, a crewman named Petersen was swept away and drowned. The crew remaining on the ship could feel their ship grinding on the rocks and so, around 3am, three more men attempted to make the same perilous trip along the rope to the shore. At this exact point the ship finally succumbed to the pounding swell and broke in two close to the bridge. The three men were swept away and drowned. At the same time three other crewmen on board the ship were washed overboard and lost. There were now eight men left aboard the ship huddled for shelter in the cook’s galley but they must have thought it was only a matter of time before they too were swept into the boiling surf. However, between seven and eight in the morning a brave local coastguard named Houghton decided to risk his life and set out along the same rope line to carry a line for the breeches buoy to the ship. He succeeded and the breeches buoy was rigged up and then the cold wet remainder of the crew were brought to shore. The mess room boy fell from the line as he was being brought ashore but a local fish worker, Alexander Craig, plunged into the surf and successfully pulled him to shore.
The G Koch was a total wreck. Her scattered remains lie where she went aground in approximate position 57 08.300 N, 002 02.667 W, to the south of Girdleness lighthouse. Her boiler is visible among the rocks at most states of the tide.