British Monarch. (Malcolm Cranfield)

Sixty years ago this year, the 2nd officer on the British cargo ship British Monarch had an amazing rescue after falling overboard from the ship.

It was when the vessel was en route to Japan from Cuba with a full cargo of soya beans it was noticed that the officer, Douglas Wardrop was missing.

Apparently, on being relieved at end of his watch at 0400 on 5th June by the chief officer, he had gone aft to clean the contacts and read the Walker’s log clock which was mounted on an outrigger attached to the bulwark when he fell overboard when the ship rolled as he leant out.

It was only when he did not appear for his breakfast or morning sight check prior to going on watch at noon that the alarm was raised, and a check of his cabin confirmed that it was undisturbed and appeared to have been unoccupied.

With the 3rd officer on the morning watch, it fell to the radio officer to appraise the Captain of their concerns, this was just before 0900, no one having seen Mr Wardrop since he handed over the watch at 0400. Immediately, a full search of the ship was made, but without success. Now 0900, the ship was turned around and retraced her reciprocal course. Naturally everyone assumed that officer had gone overboard and as last sighting was over five hours ago, it was felt that they had little chance of his recovery.

The whole crew were posted as lookouts, but by noon no sightings had been made. The captain, after trying to assess any leeway due to wind and current, decided to alter course slightly to starboard.

By a miracle around 1300 hours the 3rd officer posted on the monkey island spotted a figure waving in the choppy sea about half a mile off. The ship’s small dinghy was hurriedly launched and the lucky lad was soon safely aboard the ship, climbing up the Jacob’s ladder unaided still wearing his shoes!

Apart from sunburn and stings from Portuguese men’o war, he was in remarkably good shape. Captain William Peter Coutts received a well deserved citation and sextant for his timely assessment of likely direction of drift etc, even though he admitted that there had been a large element of luck involved.

Captain William Peter Coutts was born on 2nd October 1905 at Braehead, Scalloway Shetland Isles, and passed away on 25 March 1965 at Lerwick Shetland.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - September 2017 Issue
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