Beware the fog bank! The night a Yarmouth leisure cruise turned into a maritime drama
PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 March 2019
Nobody could have wished for a better evening for a cruise, with warm summer sunshine, a cloudless blue sky and millpond sea.
Skipper Ernie Bullock, retired skipper of drifter-trawlers and Royal Navy vessels, was looking forward to taking holidaymakers on board the Eastern Princess for a routine leisurely trip down-river from Great Yarmouth’s South Quay and out to Scroby Sands to see the seal colony there.
More than 200 happy passengers, most in light summer clothing, boarded the former Royal Navy launch for their July 1963 mini-voyage.
But on the return voyage, when she was at sea roughly opposite the South Denes power station, the unexpected happened.
A thick fog bank fog rolled in quickly and without warning, blanketing the evening sun and the landmarks familiar to skipper and crew, and causing the balmy temperature to plummet.
The pleasure tripper had neither radio nor navigational aids as her routine excursions were always in daylight.
The skipper went at full speed in a bid to outrun the fog bank but had to slow down to a crawl when the Eastern Princess was enveloped.
She inched along for over an hour, luckily without grounding on either Scroby or Yarmouth’s South Beach - or locating the safety of the Harbour’s Mouth.
Also caught in the murk was the small I’ll Try – that’s correct, one of the craft given the port registration number YH1 since its introduction in the mid-1800s, as mentioned in last week’s column! I’ll Try had been fishing off the beach when the fog clamped down.
The I’ll Try’s two-man crew tried to shepherd the Eastern Princess back to the harbour entrance but they became separated in the pea-souper.
Finally, to the relief of crew and passengers, the Eastern Princess located the twin piers and crawled into the harbour where she was deliberately grounded gently on the Spending Beach, the skipper determined not to risk colliding in the fog with berthed shipping on both sides of the river if he tried to reach her usual South Quay mooring.
The I’ll Try came across her there. Soon Gorleston lifeboat was launched, having only to cross the river to evacuate 117 passengers on three trips. Cox’n George Mobbs said it was his first experience at rescuing people within the harbour!
A ferry boat collected the other passengers, all cold but unharmed, and a Yarmouth Corporation bus conveyed them back to South Quay. The Eastern Princess was refloated undamaged the next day and resumed holiday-tripping.
On the other side of the Haven Bridge, another pleasure tripper - the Golden Galleon, also a converted ex-naval launch - hit the local headlines twice when her passengers had to spend the night on board when she had problems crossing Breydon Water on “music and dancing” evenings.
In 1957, the culprit was the descent of a blinding fog while passengers were enjoying dancing on her deck near Reedham. The skipper groped his way back as far as Breydon but then decided to anchor instead of risking navigating in darkness and fog back to her North Quay berth in Yarmouth.
In bright morning sunshine, the Golden Galleon ended her interrupted voyage safely, shepherded by Gorleston lifeboat which had been with her on Breydon through the night, having bumped on the mud three times as she searched for her.
Two years earlier, “novelty night” passengers were stranded overnight on Breydon when the Golden Galleon ran aground on mud and became high and dry as the tide ebbed further. This incident involved Gorleston lifeboat, Coastguards and Yarmouth and East Suffolk police.
When the passengers disembarked the next morning and trudged back to their holiday accommodation, some had to awaken their landladies while others were greeted by relieved anxious ones.
The dramas eliminated the usual “Having a lovely time - wish you were here” messages on postcards sent back home to family and friends, but provided novel and enduring talking points.