THREE Sunderland men had a “miraculous” escape in 1947 – after spending 23 hours adrift in the freezing North Sea,
Frederick Warburton, William Smith and Joseph Taylor were blown out to sea in their fishing boat, the Sea Hawk, after it broke down during a trip between Seaham and Sunderland.
A search of the area by Sunderland’s lifeboat drew a blank, as did special patrols of coastwatchers. The trio were finally rescued from their stricken vessel almost a day later by a collier, the Monkwood, close to Tees Bay.
“We were treated regally on the Monkwood to our first square meal in 24 hours,” said Frederick, 49, a metal flanger from St Leonard’s Street, Hendon.
The drama began on February 24, when Frederick, William and Joseph left Seaham Harbour for an hour’s run to the Wear on the Sea Hawk, a former fishing vessel.
“They had just purchased the boat from Patrick Witherspoon, of Parkside Crescent in Seaham, for use as a pleasure craft during the summer, and wanted to move it immediately to Sunderland,” reported the Echo.
“They were warned of the inadvisability of leaving the port in the gathering darkness by Mr Witherspoon and the harbour authorities, but they put to sea at about 5.30pm that day.”
Soon after leaving Seaham, however, the Sea Hawk’s engine broke down – leaving the little boat at the mercy of choppy seas and a heavy fog.
“We took out the oars and attempted to return to Seaham, but gradually we drifted away from the coast in the gathering darkness,” Frederick told the Echo.
“When we were a mile off Seaham we made distress signals out of petrol and hankerchiefs, and were answered by morse from the shore. But there was no aid sent.
“We then used one of the oars as a mast, tore up a mackintosh ling and, after soaking it in petrol, lit it as a distress signal. But it went unanswered. Fortunately, we were wearing warm clothing, but the cold was intense.”
The disappearance of the Sea Hawk sparked escalating fears for the safety of the three men, with Joseph’s mother, Mrs J Taylor, telling the Echo: “The trouble is that none of them has had anything to eat for more than 24 hours and there is no drinking water on the Sea Hawk.”
Joseph’s father, a fisherman also called Joseph, added: “They should never have attempted the trip. I could have gone through to Seaham and brought the boat to the Wear the next day.”
The pals were to spend 23 hours adrift in freezing conditions. But, as the Sea Hawk drifted towards Hartlepool, so they made a final desperate attempt to attract attention.
“We raised a white muffler,” said Frederick. “We did see two or three vessels passing, but we were out of the shipping channels and it was not until the afternoon that the Monkwood sighted us.”
The captain of the Monkwood, Sunderland man E.J. Jarrett of Stratford Avenue, immediately stepped in to help. After taking the shivering and hungry men aboard, he hooked up their boat and towed it to Blyth.
“A signal was flashed to Cullercoats radio station, asking for an ambulance to be on the quayside when the Monkwood berthed at Blyth,” reported the Echo.
“The men, suffering from exposure, recovered however, and medical arrangements were cancelled. Their relations were awaiting them on the quayside.”
l Fishermen Thomas Ambrose, James Lownie, Charles Sawyers and George Nelson sparked an air and sea search after their boat failed to return home during bad weather on New Year’s Day 1947. They finally sailed home five days later, after being rescued by the Sunderland lifeboat near Whitley Bay.