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Goodbye Far Turbot.

Recent S&P lists have reported the sale of the Far Turbot to the Far East. Just another ageing yet still useful anchor handler starting out on the next chapter of her life. There is however one chapter that her new owners should know about.

 Between 1995 and 2003 she swapped the harsh environment of the North Sea winters (and later in the period the summers too) for the relatively calmer waters of the Dover Strait when she was chartered through United Towing to the MCA as the Coastguard ETV. Her area stretched from the Thames Estuary and north eastwards down to Beachy Head, an area including the narrow and congested TSS between the UK and France. She patrolled these waters to respond to incidents posing a risk of pollution.  A surprising number of ships break down in the traffic lanes for anything from less than half an hour to several days. Years ago salvage tugs would maintain salvage station in the area but that era has long gone. The difference here being that she was permanently chartered to carry out a similar role and would often be despatched to stand by the ship – just in case. It is interesting listening to the coastguards at the Channel Navigation Information Service at Dover trying to convince the ships master that the tug was being sent just as a precaution with (at that stage) no cost implications. Between patrols she would ‘park-up’ usually off Folkestone, The Downs or Margate Roads and before long became a familiar part of the local maritime scene. Known affectionately as Fat Herbert  or Fartabout  she would often attend local maritime events on her days off – usually coinciding with the routine testing of her 7200 m3/hr fire monitors, always guaranteed to impress the punters! I heard an elderly lady once point to her at anchor off Margate and say to her friend ‘ooh look, there’s our tug’ – being a taxpayer she had a point.

 Her roles included assisting in SAR operations when needed and her crews were always eager to get involved with exercises with the local rescue services. I am coxswain of the lifeboat here at Margate and once or twice a year we would ‘book’ her for a Sunday morning exercise. They had a weighted dummy which they would put it in an un-accessible location simulating an injured crewmember, usually the shaft tunnel if she anchored. With the aid of our largest stretcher (can’t make it too easy) our crew would have to extract ‘deadfred’ onto the tugs deck then onto the lifeboat. To add to the realism the tugs crew were instructed to act as though they didn’t speak English. After a while of course we became familiar with the ships layout so on one occasion we arrived alongside and when asked where Fred was, the smiling crew pointed up to wheelhouse where he was unceremoniously draped over the railings on the monkey island. Once bagged up however we talked the tugs crew into using the ships crane – that exercise was all over very quickly! For a change on one occasion I asked the master if they would like to have a go at towing us. He looked at our 12m Mersey class lifeboat and obviously comparing it with a rig anchor said that if we needed assistance he would haul us over the stern roller onto his after deck. I didn’t fancy that very much but then he didn’t like the idea of us trying to tow him – perhaps he knew I always carried a camera on board. On the social side we would exchange a pile of Sunday newspapers for a box of hot Chelsea buns; there were seldom any left for our launchers back ashore.

 I had the good fortune to be invited to spend three days aboard her one very windy February to experience life on board. In lifeboat circles we often say tongue-in-cheek that you can’t beat a good shipwreck for crew morale but apart from a scare with a broken down LPG carrier no-one came to grief at all. One of her regular duties was to identify ships that broke Rule 10 of the colregs. The usual offence was not crossing the lanes at right angles – they were called ‘rogues’ while those who did not follow the mandatory reporting procedures were labelled ‘zombies’ On my second night on board we were tasked to identify a ship that had broken the rules when leaving The Scheldt and had not called in as required when entering Dover’s patch – we had a Zombie and a Rogue all in one! When not in panic mode the tug would operate on two of her four main engines so around twelve knots was her maximum speed. Our customer was however making 25 knots so the vectoring to get us to be going in the same direction as her as she sped by had to be very precise – we had to get close enough after all to read her name with the ships searchlight (or wake someone up perhaps!) as she sped by, but of course closing the gap as you are being overtaken is not particularly recommended!. The OOW said that they often broke off the chase if they thought they would freak the other ship out. When about two miles away a quick flash at her with our searchlight had the desired effect and all of a sudden she was very eager to talk. She was a reefer bound for Colombia and after putting them in contact with the coastguard we scurried back to the safety of The Downs. I had witnessed an intriguing exercise in precise navigation, but one that I imagine is not carried out in modern simulators perhaps?

 In the hard-nosed world of commercial salvage where profit is the name of the game it is often overlooked that such operations often involve the saving of life. It is easy to gather statistics of lives lost at sea but harder to interpret the often grey definition of having saved a life. The Far Turbot (and of course other ETVs’ before her and since) regularly have a hand in saving life at sea, sometimes in an indirect form. A few years ago following a beautiful summers Sunday morning with a fresh south-westerly breeze all hell broke loose when a front passed through the area. The wind flew out to the north and within half an hour was gusting to 50 to 60 knots. A tip - try not to be off the north Kent coast on these occasions. It wasn’t long before we were called to assist several small craft caught out by the sudden change of weather. A local commercial fishing boat had been attending a ship anchored in the Roads and had cast off when the weather changed. A large wave swamped her, partly flooding below decks to the extent that the skipper thought she was about to founder. This was a Mayday situation and when we arrived he was slowly making way head to wind. He was understandably reluctant to leave the wheel to inspect below and although low in the water the situation was relatively stable. Plan A was to get him to turn the boat downwind whereby he could run back to Ramsgate or take a tow from us. The sea conditions were some of the worst we had seen however and the skipper would need all his skill and more importantly confidence to judge the timing of his manoeuvre. From his forward wheelhouse windows all he would have seen would have been a constant succession of steep breaking walls of water. As we did not know the effect on his now compromised stability the turn would not be easy for him. Meanwhile Fat Herbert had been anchored in the Roads and was also now on scene. The readers of this column will of course know all about the manoeuvring capabilities of an anchor handler and – I think without anyone realising what was happening - her master obviously had a plan! He positioned his vessel beam on to the seas and directly ahead of the slowly approaching fishing vessel, in effect blocking his path but using an element of sideways movement to match his progress. Now put yourself in the wheelhouse of the fishing vessel. Instead of the constant walls of water in front of him he was now faced with a different even bigger wall, this one red with a giant white ‘F’ on its side. The provision of this lee gave him the opportunity he needed to turn the boat around. The panic was over; our colleagues from Ramsgate arrived to escort him back home while we went off to escort one of our own fishing vessels back to harbour. When we got back I telephoned Captain Dave Forster on the tug and in my ignorance, eager to learn asked if he used the joystick during the manoeuvre. No he said – the bow thruster wasn’t working!! Without anyone knowing, on that day she had played a part in perhaps saving a man’s life. They would not have been paid for that job of course, but they wouldn’t mind that.

 Klyne Tugs of Lowestoft eventually took over the contract and when the Far Turbot left our waters for the last time we presented her (together with United Towing) with a commemorative RNLI plaque thanking her for her company over the years. The world of ship preservation is as tough as the world of commercial salvage so I imagine one day she will be humiliatingly hauled up a beach somewhere and cut up. If the plaque remains on board perhaps someone will read it and say ‘I wonder what that was all about’

 Peter Barker



Deepwater Horizon -The President's Report
Deepwater Horizon - The Progess of the Event

The KULLUK Grounding
The Costa Concordia Report
The Costa Concordia Grounding
The Elgin Gas Leak
The Loss of the Normand Rough
The Bourbon Dolphin Accident
The Loss of the Stevns Power
Another Marine Disaster
Something About the P36
The Cormorant Alpha Accident
The Ocean Ranger Disaster
The Loss of the Ocean Express

The Life of the Oil Mariner
Offshore Technology and the Kursk
The Sovereign Explorer and the Black Marlin

Safety Case and SEMS
Practical Safety Case Development
Preventing Fires and Explosions Offshore
The ALARP Demonstration
PFEER, DCR and Verification
PFEER and the Dacon Scoop
Human Error and Heavy Weather Damage
Lifeboats & Offshore Installations
More about PFEER
The Offshore Safety Regime - Fit for the Next Decade
The Safety Case and its Future
Collision Risk Management
Shuttle Tanker Collisions
A Good Prospect of Recovery

The History of the UT 704
The Peterhead Connection
Goodbye Kiss
Uses for New Ships
Supporting Deepwater Drilling
Jack-up Moving - An Overview
Seismic Surveying
Breaking the Ice
Tank Cleaning and the Environment
More about Mud Tank Cleaning
Tank Cleaning in 2004
Glossary of Terms

An Unusual Investigation
Gaia and Oil Pollution
The True Price of Oil
Icebergs and Anchor-Handlers
Atlantic SOS
The Greatest Influence
How It Used to Be
Homemade Pizza
Goodbye Far Turbot
The Ship Manager
Running Aground
A Cook's Tale
Navigating the Channel
The Captain's Letter

The Sealaunch Project
Ghost Ships of Hartlepool
Beam Him Up Scotty
The Bilbao OSV Conference