The steel steamship Saint Nicholas was launched from the Whiteinch yard of J G Lawrie and Co Ltd (Yard No 54) on 17th June 1871. She measured 227.5′ x 27.2′ x 14.6′ and her tonnage was 787 gross tons, 455 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by Hall Russell delivering 175 net horse power.
Built for the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Steam Navigation Company Ltd of Aberdeen. Her primary routes were between the northern isles and the mainland and the ports along the north and east coast. She was the first vessel to run from Aberdeen to Lerwick in 1891.
The Saint Nicholas left Scrabster on 17th June 1914 under the command of Captain W Johnson with a crew of twenty nine men, five passengers and a general cargo aboard. The weather at the time was hazy and the wind light from the south east. By 6:45pm they were passing Dunnet Head and by 7:30pm they were abreast of Stroma. The lighthouse at Stroma was sighted but by now the fog was getting denser. As they passed Duncansby Head the fog had thickened so much Captain Johnson ordered engines to half speed and slight course adjustment was made to take her towards Noss Head and Wick. At 9pm the fog horn at Noss Head was clearly heard and fifteen minutes later the engines were stopped to allow a depth sounding to be taken. Seven minutes later the engine were set to slow ahead but Johnson, sensing his vessel’s dangerous situation decided at 9:30pm to stop engines intending to anchor for the night.
However, at this point a special pre-arranged sound signal from the harbour pilot, was heard by the crew. This procedure had been put in place to cope with precisely this situation and therefore the captain began moving very slowly towards the signal. Unfortunately the captain had slightly miscalculated his actual position and, only a few minutes later, at 9:45pm, breakers were spotted directly ahead and, although the engines were reversed, it was too late and the Saint Nicholas ran aground. The engines were run in reverse for some time but she was stuck fast. Minutes later the pilot boat arrived on the scene and took off the passengers and the steward. The crew initially stayed aboard but, with the falling tide, the vessel took on a dangerous list to port and the captain ordered his crew into the boats. Soon after, with an ever increasing list to port as the tide fell, she slipped off the rocks and sank in deep water. The subsequent enquiry held that the master had predominantly managed the situation well but, a small error of judgement in the final moments had resulted in his ship running aground. She became a total loss.
The wreckage of the Saint Nicholas lie close to the shoreline where she sank in position 58° 26.389’N, 003° 03.196’W in water up to 20 metres deep. There is still substantial wreckage at the site with the huge boiler, engine, pistons and propeller still clearly visible.