A bridge too near, as tide sweeps drifters to disaster
PUBLISHED: 14:34 26 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:34 26 May 2017
The idiom "a bridge too far", meaning to over-reach, entered common usage three decades ago with the release of the star-studded film of that name. The movie, based on a Cornelius Ryan book with similar title, chronicled Operation Market Garden - the Allies' gallant but failed Arnhem airborne operation in 1944.
Here in Great Yarmouth, “a bridge too near” might have been an apt description of the situation in which mariners occasionally found themselves in the River Yare, natural conditions negating their seamanship qualities.
Recently I recalled the drama of the Styn Streuvels, the small Belgian trawler which sank after colliding with the Haven Bridge in 1969, ending up as a hulk on Derby’s Hard at the harbour’s mouth. Her plight was at peak summer with road traffic over the bridge at its heaviest, but fortunately vehicles were able to continue their journeys uninterrupted.
During the long-gone autumn herring fishery, Scottish drifters would berth up to six deep on Hall Quay on Saturday and Sunday nights, reducing the navigable width considerably. Seeking to manoeuvre into position to berth, a drifter could be vulnerable and be caught unawares by the current and swept towards the bridge too swiftly for avoiding action.
Two Peterhead drifters, the Glen Ugie and the Adoration, were victims of this jockeying scenario in October 1961, making headlines. The strong flood tide caught the Glen Ugie, which ended up at an angle, wedged between a bridge buttress and the quayside, but the force of the tide held her so tightly she was in no danger of sinking although leaking.
Berthing master George Mileham reported: “Three drifters were going astern against the tide to clear ships near the bridge so they could get space to swing. As they came astern, with no ropes attached, the tide took them round.”
An eye-witness added: “You need a lot of luck to manoeuvre perfectly in conditions like this.”
The Glen Ugie’s crew, augmented by Yarmouth Fire Brigade members, began pumping out the water from her.
The Adoration was also in trouble, but not as severely as the Glen Ugie.
At slack water, the port tug Richard Lee Barber hauled the Adoration away from the Glen Ugie, allowing a towline to the passed to the major victim. Firemen continued pumping out the Glen Ugie as the tug towed her slowly to Fellows Dock at Southtown for a thorough inspection.
The Glen Ugie’s skipper, Donald Anderson, reckoned she would need a new stern, a dry-dock job he estimated would take no more than about three days.
The North Shields drifter Gannet did not escape as lightly in 1907 on arrival here to participate in the autumn herring fishery. Caught by the tide, she was swept to the old Haven Bridge, striking the central buttress and becoming stuck across the arch. The impact holed her, water gushed in and extinguished the boiler fires, rendering her helpless.
Desperate attempts to lighten her were made by crew and helpers on the bridge, but their efforts proved in vain and within an hour she heeled over. According to the Mercury: “Amidst a scene of some excitement, water poured over her bulwarks and she sank in 10ft of water.
“Though on several previous occasions boats have got into a similar precarious position, the present is the first in which efforts to release them have failed.”
The Mercury added: “All the nets, gear and crew’s belongings were saved, and at the time of writing the bridge is strewn with the salved gear.”
Even the Royal Navy’s seamanship, professionalism and expertise proved insufficient when not one but two submarines became stuck across that old Haven Bridge in 1908. A flotilla of four was berthing on Hall Quay when a fierce flood tide swept the hapless pair crashing into the bridge.
Not the Senior Service’s finest hour...