Vedra sailed to edge of world

OVER the years, several Sunderland vessels have been named Vedra – the Roman name for the River Wear.

One of the best known was the steam pilot cutter of that name which served the port during the 1920s and 1930s.

Built by Workman Clark and Co of Belfast in 1905, Vedra started life as the 230 tons Coastguard cruiser, HMS Squirrel.

She was 103 feet long, with a beam of 21 feet and was propelled by a steam triple-expansion engine. She was capable of 10 knots and could carry 44 tons of coal bunkers. Her armament consisted of two three-pounder guns. During World War One, she was based at Devonport and Falmouth and was used as a cable-laying ship from 1917.

After the war, she became surplus to Admiralty requirements and was sold to Sunderland Pilotage Authority on November 16, 1921.

Renamed Vedra and registered at Sunderland, the black-hulled vessel made an impressive sight as she lay at her moorings in North Dock basin, sporting a black-topped buff funnel and flying her red and white pilot flag.

Vedra's main role was to transfer pilots to shipping off Sunderland Harbour (known as the "roads") by means of the cutter's oar-propelled boarding boat.

In 1935, the pilotage authority decided to sell her and received several offers from local shipbreakers. The authority, however, chose not to accept any of these bids and re-advertised Vedra in the maritime press.

It looked as though her days had ended when South Dock-based Thomas Young and Sons (Shipbreakers) Ltd's tender was accepted the following year. Providentially, a film company was looking for a suitable vessel for use in connection with making a new movie called Edge of the World, which was to be set in the Shetlands.

The film was to be celebrated British director, Michael Powell's first major success. One of Powell's team, a sailor named Vernon Sewell, came to Sunderland and purchased Vedra at a handsome profit to the shipbreakers' yard. He captained her as she left the Wear on June 9, 1936 to head north for a great film-making adventure.

Edge of the World was filmed during the next four months on and around the Shetland Isle of Foula and was based on the true story of the 1930 evacuation of the inhabitants of St Kilda in the Hebrides, after they had fallen on hard times.

Powell had been refused permission to film on St Kilda itself, but filmed most of the scenes on location at Foula, with a various shots being taken from Vedra as she steamed offshore.

The film was released in 1937, with stars including John Laurie (of Dad's Army fame), Finlay Currie and Niall MacGinnis.

Vedra's eventual fate remains a mystery. Can any reader help?