Barty Coe – The Skippers Story
I was skipper of the Asdale the night she ran ashore. I would just like give a first hand account of what took place on that fateful night. After landing our catch of mackerel to the Russian klondyker Antarctica, we found that our steering would not work and requested to the skipper that we stay tied up to his vessel till we sorted the problem, and would it be possible, because of the deteriorating weather conditions to put more ropes onto him. Due to language difficulties this did not happen but they send two of their men, one an electrician, the other a engineer aboard to assist the repair. In the meantime the trawler Boston Blenheim came out of Falmouth to try and tow us into the harbor. The wind by now had reached about force 8. After three attempts a line was passed across and our warp end was hove across to the Blenheim, but before a tow could be secured the Blenheim fell across Antarctica’s bow and sustained damage to her starboard quarter and further attempts were abandoned. By now the weather had worsened, winds reaching force 10 from the east, causing the Antarctica’s anchor to drag and both boats were being driven toward the shore,and our forward ropes parted, causing us to swing under her stern. To avoid damage the remaining mooring ropes were let go and we dropped our anchor but this did not hold.
By this time we were only about quarter of a mile from shore and a mayday was sent out. It was only a matter of minutes before we were driven onto the rocks. We remained in touch with the coastguard who informed us that help was on the way from the shore. Attempts were made to launch the life rafts on the starboard side, but after getting three men into them they both broke adrift, we found out later that two men made it to the shore and the other had been thrown out of the raft. The shore rescue arrived and a breaches buoy was rigged between the cliff and the ships mast on the wheelhouse top. Just as we were about to have the first crewmember enter the buoy the ship turned over onto its port side taking with it all the rescue equipment. Out of the four of us on the wheelhouse, myself and two others managed to scramble over the side of the wheelhouse into the well of the starboard veranda.
The mate had tried to come down a ladder at the back of the wheelhouse and had slipped, but was holding on. I tried to grab him by the hand but he slipped from my grasp and vanished into the sea. The two Russians who had came onboard made signs that they were going to try and swim ashore and could not be persuaded not to. They climbed over the ship and made their way to the anchor well. We found out later that one had attempted to swim ashore and had perished. The remaining crew were eventually taken off by helicopter and I was last to leave the vessel. We were taken to Culdrose naval base and because of the snow that had fallen, were unable to leave for 3 days.
Sometime later the boat was checked over by the then DTI who found that the steering had been jammed by a nut that had come loose inside one of the hydraulic steering rams and there was no way it could have been detected at sea.
We later heard that three men and their father, the Billcliffe’s, had attempted to help us. One can only give you all praise as well as all others that helped on the night, the helicopter crew who, because of the ferociousness of the weather were told they did not have to fly, thank God they did, Lifeboat and coastguards crews.
On a final note I visited the wreck site in 2003 with the intention of looking up the Billciffe family but found that a new holiday complex had been built at Maenporth were their hotel had once been. One thing that did upset me while I was making enquiries as to what happened to the family, were the comments from the desk clerk at the new hotel. I had not told him who I was but told him I had
been along looking at the remains of the wreck, to which he told me the Scottish crew had all been full of drink it being New Year. Well you can imagine how I felt, I told him who I was, and for a start we were all crew from North Shields, not Scottish, and we did not carry drink on the boat. I’m afraid I can’t tell you what I ended up calling this fellow.