From patrol boat to yacht – the story of river Wear pilot cutter Vedra

Vedra at North Dock Basin while in service as a pilot boat.
Vedra at North Dock Basin while in service as a pilot boat.
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Continuing with the theme of the Wear’s pilot cutters, we look at the interesting history of Triton’s replacement.

Evidently, Triton was only a short-term stopgap, while Sunderland Pilotage Authority looked at a permanent replacement. This came in the form of the 103-foot-long steamer HMS Squirrel, which had served with the Royal Navy as a Coastguard patrol vessel and tender.

Launched by Workman, Clark and Co of Belfast in 1904 and completed the following year, she carried two three-pounder guns and was propelled by a 300 horse-power triple-expansion steam engine giving a maximum speed of 10 knots.

Most of her naval career involved fishery protection duties off East Anglia and the Cornish coastline. She gained a reputation for her crew’s vigilance in capturing foreign trawlers fishing within British territorial waters.

From 1917, HMS Squirrel was used as a cable layer and on becoming surplus to naval requirements, was sold to Sunderland Pilotage Authority on November 16, 1921.

A lengthy refit followed, during which she received a full overhaul and was equipped with sleeping quarters for a number of pilots, apprentices and crew.

The wheelhouse, saloon and steam steering gear were also refurbished.

Now named Vedra, the 158 gross-ton vessel entered service in 1923, being registered at Sunderland on June 13 that year.

Insured for £3,000, her conversion had involved considerable financial investment. As steam had to be kept raised at all times, her running costs were high.

Although Sunderland was non-compulsory pilotage port at the time, shipowners were encouraged to utilise the pilotage service in an effort to recoup expenditure.

In 1935, it was decided to sell Vedra, the boat eventually being bought by Thomas Young and Sons (Shipbreakers) Ltd in 1936. Fortunately, she was rescued from the breakers’ yard by Vernon Sewell, who used her as a platform from which to film scenes of British director Michael Powell’s 1938 movie “Edge of the World”, based on the 1930 evacuation of the Scottish island of St Kilda.

She sailed from the Wear on June 9, 1936 bound for the Island of Foula.

Afterwards, she was sold to overseas owners and given an unknown Greek name.

In 1938, she was registered at Famagusta, Cyprus and renamed Sea-Serpent after being acquired by George E Nicoletto of Marble Arch, London for use as a steam yacht.

During the German invasion of Greece in the Second World War, Sea-Serpent was attacked and sunk by Nazi aircraft on April 22, 1941 at Adamantas, the harbour town of the Greek island of Milos.

She was attempting to flee the German invaders. On board was Mr Minas Remythnes, who is reported to have been the owner at the time.