The steel steam trawler Strathelliot was launched from the Aberdeen yard of Hall Russell and Co Ltd (Yard No 564) on 3rd Fabruary 1915. She measured 115.6′ x 22.1′ x 12.1′ and her tonnage was 211 gross tons, 98 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by Hall Russell delivering 74 registered horse power.
Ordered by Mr D Wood of the Aberdeen Steam Fishing and Trawling Co Ltd and registered in Aberdeen with fishing number A46 she was immediately requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted for minesweeping duties including the fitting of a 6 pounder gun on her foredeck. At the end of the war she was returned to her owners finally beginning the fishing career originally intended. Again, at the outbreak of World War Two, she was requisitioned and served throughout this war in various roles including as a Dan Layer (role to mark out minefields), as an armed trawler and finally as a fleet store carrier in 1942. At the end of the war she was returned to her owners and in 1949 ownership was transferred to the Clova Fishing Co Ltd of Aberdeen.
On the evening of 23rd October 1952, while on her latest fishing trip under the command of her usual skipper George Simpson, Strathelliot was caught in a violent south east gale off the west coast of Orkney. She was swept onto the rocks at Taing of Selwick, Hoy and, with huge waves pounding her and lying with a heavy list to port, the twelve men aboard were in grave danger. The trawler’s distress signals were picked up and soon the Stromness lifeboat was launched and heading for the scene. However, when they reached the stranded vessel the swell, with the wind now from the south west, was now crashing over the rocks and rolling the Strathelliot violently. The crew later described this as the most terrifying period of the rescue. The rocket brigade from Longhope also managed the difficult cross country trip to reach the shoreline close to the wreck in the early hours of the morning. The lifeboat made a number of dangerous attempts to get alongside but to no avail and with the lifeboat crew now sodden and cold they returned to Stromness to recover before setting out again to the wreck scene.
It was clear that nothing could be done from shore or sea to save the men on Strathelliot as she continued to roll heavily on the jagged rocks of the reef. The trawler Strathella had also arrived, skippered by the brother of the Strathelliot’s skipper, but she too was powerless to help and stood by close to the wreck. Finally, with the weather abating slightly the shore rescue crew managed to get a line aboard Strathelliot allowing them to rig up the breeches buoy apparatus and haul the men, one by one, to the shore and safety. The rescue took six long hours with the line stretching almost four hundred yards from the shore to the wreck.
The saga of the Strathelliot was however not yet over. After the crew were taken ashore the majority headed home to Aberdeen but the skipper and two of his crew remained in Orkney hoping to get aboard the wreck and recover as many personal items and valuables as they could. With the assistance of the local community they re-boarded and began to lighten the trawler with the prospect of pulling her off if the weather improved.
It appeared that, despite her perilous position, the vessel was not yet too badly damaged. As the men worked aboard the Strathelliot the weather deteriorated once more and soon she was bumping and grinding heavily again and the three men who remained on the trawler were, once again, in mortal danger. The breeches buoy crew from Longhope returned to the site, set up their apparatus and succeeded in pulling the three men safely to shore. On 6th November the Strathelliot was declared a constructive total loss. It was expected that the wreck would be sold for scrap but she quickly broke up making any substantial salvage uneconomic.
The scattered wreckage of Strathelliot lies where she grounded in in approximate position 58° 55.957’N, 003° 20.609’W. The wreckage is fully visible at low tide and includes the bow structure, boiler and engine block.
We would like to thank Lloyd’s Register Foundation – Heritage & Education Centre for allowing us to reproduce documents from their archive in this article.