Porthleven Pilot Gig Club, Cornwall
Gigs: Energetic, St Elvan, Nerthek,
Lowen Mor, Bal Maiden
Five brothers lost! The tragic loss of the Porthleven Fishing Boat “Energetic”
Owned by Porthleven Gig Club, the gig “Energetic” is dedicated to the memory of the five Richard brothers who lost their lives in the Porthleven fishing boat “Energetic” on the 25th June 1948. This is the story, told by the sole survivor.
At a quarter past six on the 25th June 1948, on a lovely summer’s evening, we left our little home port of Porthleven, after having bid farewell to our loved ones, and telling them to expect us back tomorrow at midday.
We were in company with four or five other boats which comprised the long-line fleet.
As we left the harbour and proceeded in a south westerly direction, we could see at a distance a bank of fog and after we had been on our way for an hour we entered into this dense fog; at first we thought it might have been patchy but after having continued for an hour and half longer, we came to the conclusion that it must be widespread.
By this time we had gone far enough and were in a position to shoot our bait nets.
Before doing this, however, we discussed between ourselves the advisability of shooting our nets immediately or whether to wait a while to see if the fog would lift before darkness fell.
The decision hung in the balance for some little time but at last we decided it would be as well to shoot right away. It is needless for me to say how important that decision proved to be.
At this time we were all inwardly conscious of our danger, and were sounding our fog horn at frequent intervals; then we put on our lights and were all on deck waiting for darkness to fall so that we could pull in our nets.
In the meantime, we had heard two or three steamers pass down some distance from us, but now we could hear one approaching from the south east and, by the sound of its fog horn, we had the feeling that it was coming towards us and might come very near us, so we lit a flare and continuously sounded the fog-horn.
Not being under power, we were helpless to anything more, but still the ship came on and on, and at last we saw her break through the fog about 300 yards from us, and coming straight for us.
We did everything in our power to draw attention to our presence, all to no avail, and we now realised that nothing could be done to avoid a collision.
As a crew we now parted company; three of us went forward in the bows and the rest of stayed aft – I never saw them again. All we could do now was wait for the moment of impact. The suspense was terrible and I can see it all happening now. Crash! Into our side went the steamer, its bows going in about a third of the way and pushing us down on an even keel.
The sea was rushing from aft towards us, and the next moment I was going down under the water, seemingly for ages, being drawn down and down by the suction from the boat.
While under water I became unconscious of the fact that I was holding something in my right hand. It was a canvas buoy, a float we used on our gear. Just how I came to be in possession of it, I don’t know, but it was now drawing me quickly to the surface.
My trip down and up must have been very quick, for when I came to the surface I noticed the steamer had not yet passed by, and the first thought that entered my head was the danger from the ships propellers. So, hanging on to the float, I did my utmost to kick myself away from the ships side.
I remember at this time being conscious of one of my brother being close at hand fighting for his life, but only for a moment for the sea was in a turmoil and he was soon dragged down, never to appear above the surface again.
I was continually being drawn down under water, but after a while the sea became calm and I was able to open my eyes and look around; at once I saw our shooting roller within easy reach of me, I grasped this, and at the same moment I realised that all of the air had gone out of the canvas float onto which I had been holding; I let it go for it was no further use to me.
The spar to which I now clung proved a very insufficient means of support; I kept going down and up and when I was under, because of its circular shape and the motion of the sea, it was inclined to roll away from me, and I had great difficulty in holding on to it.
Then it was that I heard the last dying gasp of one of my brothers and I realised within myself that they were all gone and I was the only one left.
As the full force of this broke upon me, I was overwhelmed and sorely tempted to let go; it seemed far easier for me to die rather than to live. But the Lord bought before me a vision of my wife and two dear children and I pictured all that my loss would mean to them, and so I clung fast. Three times I was sorely tempted to let go, but each time the Lord bought the same vision before me.
It was at this time that I looked around me once more and there I saw, again within my reach one of our dans which is made of cork with a 12 or 14 foot staff up through the middle of it; This we used as a mark attached to our long lines.
Drawing this toward me, I placed my feet around the bottom and my arms around the top and felt fairly well supported in the water. Then I unlaced my boots and kicked them off.
I now had time to consider my position; I was out in the ocean, 10 miles from the nearest land, surrounded by a thick fog; I thought that the steamer which has sunk us had continued on its way, ignorant of the tragedy, and I felt alone in this ocean of sea. How long would I be able to hold out?
As I thought of my hopeless position I lifted up my heart to the Lord crying out aloud, “Oh God, I know that I am thy child, and I am not afraid to die; but if be possible, to bring me out of this!” How long I prayed I have no knowledge but after some time, as I looked towards the west, I saw the mast head lights of a steamer. Not realising that it was the same ship that had collided with us but thinking it was another steamer, I commenced shouting, “Help! Help! Help!”
After some little time I heard a voice directly behind me saying “Hold on old timer – we are coming!” The next moment I was taken aboard the ships lifeboat and, as I felt someone cutting away my clothes, I became unconscious.
I regained consciousness to find myself in the ships hospital being force to drink hot milk and coffee and being given a continual renewal of hot blankets. Another stretcher was wheeled into the sick bay and upon it lay Mr Mewton who had gone to sea with us for a pleasure trip. He was unconscious but still alive, and the second mate of the ship commenced artificial respiration at once.
This continued for about five hours, then one of the crew told me they would like to take me to another room; I knew the reason for this – Mr Mewton had gone beyond all human aid. You can imagine something of what I passed through as I passed through in the ship all night and well into the next day, wondering how, when and where I would get ashore and how I was going to face my brothers’ widows and fatherless children, and my poor aged father. Continually I cried to God to see me through.
At midday, after being given a spare set of clothing, I was taken off the ship by a lifeboat from the Scilly Isles and into the same boat was lowered the body of Mr Mewton. It took us three hours to reach St Mary’s harbour, and here I was interviewed by the Customs Officer, and had to go through the ordeal of giving a detailed account of all that had happened; But God’s presence was very deep within me, and it was a strength and power outside of myself which was bearing me up.
My ordeal was not yet complete, for I was taken away by the Police Officer to the mortuary to identify Mr Mewton’s body and from there to the inquest. But God was true to His promise, and was with me during this experience. It was now half-past four and the little steamer which plies between the Isles of Scilly and the mainland was due to leave for Penzance.
We steamed into the harbour at eight o’clock; there was a great crowd there to meet me, amongst them were many loved ones including, of course, my wife, Pastor and Mrs Matthews and a number of Church members were also there.
After reaching home my Doctor came and amongst the questions he asked me was, if I had taken in any sea water. I told him that I did not remember having taken a spoonful, and after examination he was amazed to find this was true, particularly taking into consideration the fact of my not being able to swim and being submerged under water so much – but I know it was God who was keeping me.
The following day was a trying ordeal for me when a number of my nephews and nieces visited me.
Many times during this experience the enemy had led me to the very brink and depths of despair but God, Praise His Name, kept me though it all; and He that has kept, I am confident, will keep, and it is to God that I give all of the glory for preserving me.
Ralph Richards (Sole survivor of the Porthleven fishing boat Energetic.)
Today of the Richards family still hold a close relation with the gig club, and with our Energetic.