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Deck Hand pulls off “a million to one chance of success”

Year 1952

Read by Ewan Kelbie (Commander, RN Retd.) – Supporter, Royal Humane Society

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Strachan, Peter,(18), Deck Hand

Stanhope Gold Medal 1952

42 miles off Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. At 9.0 p.m. on 27th October, 1952, it then being dark and stormy, the fishing vessel Three Bells, sailing from Great Yarmouth, shot its gear in a depth of 22 fathoms. The wind was E.N.E. with gale force, sea exceptionally heavy. This weather, which was bad, now deteriorated to an alarming degree, the wind rising to gale force and increasing. The Skipper gave the order to start hauling in the gear. At this moment a very heavy sea struck the vessel, and the messenger rope jumped out of the cage roller; this threw Mate William George Buchan (59) over the ship’s side into the sea.

The chances of rescue are described as:- a million to one chance that he ever got back to the boat with Buchan, who is a very heavy man and was unconscious (Caledonian Fishselling and Marine Stores Company, Ltd., of Peterhead), and the risk was suicidal and generally accepted as such by seafarers in the vicinity (R Forman, Esq., Magistrate and Baillie of Peterhead). None the less Deck Hand Strachan went in after removing his boots and oilskin. To reach Mate Buchan he had to swim to windward but, with difficulty, he reached and supported the 14 – 15 stone man who was unconscious.

Deck Hand Strachan supported Mate Buchan for 35 minutes, keeping him above the surface of the water in the light of flares and searchlights. On the vessel coming round and closing the two men in the water Mate Buchan was hauled inboard between rolls, followed by Deck Hand Strachan.

Skipper Alex. Strachan of the vessel Three Bells states:- I consider that in all my sea experience I have never seen nor, in fact, heard, of a man being saved in conditions such as prevailed that night.

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