On the 27th of January 1974 in the midst of a raging storm, the MV Captayannis sunk in the River Clyde with its cargo of sugar. The crew were rescued, but the ship itself could not be saved after rolling over onto her side on a sand bar. I was about one and a half at the time, but somehow I can vividly remember being taken down to the shore by my uncle and grandpa to see the wreck in the days that followed the storm.
Having lived in Helensburgh for most of my life, “the sugar boat”, as the locals call it, has always been a feature when I looked out over the Clyde. In May 2010, my Uncle John took us out to it on his boat and I snapped a few pictures of the Captayannis up close, putting them up on Flickr.
Years later, approaching the 40th anniversary of the sinking, I was contacted by a journalist from The Daily Mail who asked if they could use one of my pictures in an article he was writing. I happily agreed and was delighted to be paid for the use of the image. After it was published the journalist sent me PDF’s of the article and I was very impressed by how well researched it was, revealing facts relating to the Captayannis that I hadn’t been aware of.
Armed with the article and various resources online, I had a much better understanding of what unfolded on the night and it inspired me to write a narrative poem about the incident. Unfortunately I found it hard going writing that style of poem, so although I started it in 2014 I didn’t actually consider it “done” until February 2015. There are things I’d probably change if I was to do it again, but I these things are maybe best left at a certain point rather than continually revising them.
The tale of the Sugar Boat
T’was on a stormy night late January,
back in nineteen seventy four.
When the captain o’ a sugar boat
had fate come knock his cabin door.
The rain; it lashed! The wind; it howled!
Waves crashed upon the deck.
But little could the captain know
by morn’ his ship would be a wreck.
Moored along the Tail O’ the Bank,
The Captayannis’ anchor slipped.
The master called to fire the engines up,
before the storm could take a grip.
But for a vessel built back in ‘46
this was a task that took some time.
And soon her forty-six hundred tons
were fast adrift on the churning brine.
If the crew could get her under power
they could seek shelter in Gare Loch.
There they could ride out this hellish night
and in the morn’ make James Watt dock.
But close by a massive tanker,
by the name of British Light,
Was weathering the storm herself
with her anchor chains pulled tight.
Those iron chains cut like a saw,
as the Captayannis swept on past.
Holed beneath the water line,
this savage night would be her last
For captain Ionnis and his command
the sands of time ran short.
His actions now could save his crew,
but ne’er again would his ship make port.
As the water poured in through the hull
and the ship began to list.
Whatever decision the captain made,
he had to make it fast.
With the engines fired for their last gasp,
the captain called for them to roar,
To muster every drop of power
toward the shallow mid-firth sandbar.
The Captayannis rammed into the silt,
That lay beneath the raging Clyde.
This last ditch move had saved the crew,
while she lay heavy to one side.
So the sugar boat escaped the fate
of sinking deep beneath the waves.
And her crew were swiftly rescued by
a clutch of boats that came to aid.
Waiting aboard the tugboat Labrador,
The captain hoped all was not lost.
That when the wicked squall subsided,
the crew could return and take their posts.
But the waves battered on relentless,
rolling the Captayannis on her side,
her cargo of sweet sugar lost
to the saltwater of The Clyde.
As the days that followed became weeks,
then the months and years flew by.
No salvage would save her dignity
and scavengers picked her dry.
So amid the Clyde she lies to this day,
where seagulls rest upon her hull.
A reminder to all who sail on by
that fate at sea can be so cruel.