The Ingrid Pitt column: that sinking feeling

Ingrid recounts another of her adventures - this time, raising a famous wrecked ship from six fathoms below...

I had a call from an old sea faring friend, John, recently. He was quite excited and wanted to share his news with me. A friend of his had told him about a 150 ft sloop which was being practically given away to whoever wanted it. And he wanted it. It was lying in dry dock at Rochester after being raised from the bottom of the Medway just outside the harbour walls. What quickened my interest was the fact that it had been one of the ships in the nautical soap, Onedine Line. And it had an intriguing name – The Stina Sapoo. How it got to be lying in six fathoms of dirty water in the harbour mouth is an interesting story.

When Tom Adams was told to pack his skin tight jodhpurs and depart at the end of the series, the ship was sold off. The ship had been configured for the needs of the cast and crew of the series. Instead of the usual sealed sea toilets, ordinary flush toilets had been fitted. There was also the problem of the bowsprit, the figurehead of a buxom lady. This jutted out in front around twenty feet or so. The water was a little choppy as the newly installed owner approached the harbour as captain on his maiden voyage. A cross wind and a choppy sea had the long bowsprit scribing huge figures of eight as it approached the opening in the harbour wall. At the end of the harbour wall stood a solitary, slender lamp post. The weaving sprit managed to hit the post dead centre. Remember the flush toilets? They weren’t built to seal off the surge of water which shot up the outflow as the bow rode up the wall. The more the water poured in, the lower the stricken vessel settled. Within minutes the ship sank to the bottom. Across the entrance to the harbour! Because of its position the rescue teams turned out immediately, raised the ship and towed it to dry dock. Where the wrangling started.

Was the Stina Sapoo within the harbour where it would still be the property of the owner? Or was it outside the walls where it would become the property of whoever raised her? That hadn’t been settled. Hence the asking price of £5,000. John’s insisted we go down and have a look at her. I caught the excitement and found myself striding the deck of the mud covered craft on a bitterly cold Saturday morning in March. Below decks was magic. The deck head was held up by huge, bare-breasted statues of goddesses. The engine room was all an engine room should be. I loved the masts. Massive! And the wheelhouse. I could already see myself enjoying the Monaco Grand Prix from a deck chair on the quarter deck.

John was left to do the business. Talking to the Harbour Master at Chichester he found another wannabe ship owner. That made four. John, a sailing friend of his called Peter, the Harbour Master and me. A barrister friend heard about our plot to become maritime and wanted in. Wonderful! So he began to look at the paperwork. He came back with all sorts of problems. Not least was the disputed ownership. Even Peter began to have second thoughts. Then our friendly Harbour Master had the wind taken out of his sails by someone whispering in his ear that the Stina was Salvage and therefore owned by the company which had raised her. In the end we all had to agree that perhaps it wasn’t worth the hassle. John tried to soften the blow by saying that there were always great bargains coming up and he would keep his eyes open. I wasn’t interested in any other boat. I had fallen deeply in love with the muddy old Stina Sapoo.

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I checked up on what had happened to her some time later and was told by a member of the Medway Ports Authority that she was “in a sinking condition.” What a waste of a wonderful dream.

Ingrid writes every week at Den of Geek; find her last column here.