Tow break adrift
the salvage of the "Hubinsel-4"
The Nestor and Simson at the North Sea
Early in the morning of Friday 23 August 1963, the English tugboat Serviceman left with the German drilling platform Hubinsel-4 from Emden. The 2600 pk powerful tugboat of the United Towing Company at Hull, must the in Lübeck built drilling platform of 100'- long and 60'- broad , foreseeing of four steel legs - the legs rised100'- above and 20'- under water - bring to Southampton for an English enterprise from were it later on will be towed near the area off Weymouth to go drilling there, closed under the British south coast.
De Serviceman van de United towing Company
Captain Varley steered his Serviceman
through the Dollard, along Delfzijl and Rottumeroog on to the North Sea there stood - as usual - a stiff
south-westerly, which was driving up the short waves, but there was no reason to be
worried. The British captain knew the wind and the water, the way of the current and
the threat of the sand-banks near the Dutch coast, and wrote in his ship's journal - no
details -. Following the broad arc of the Dutch Wadden islands the English tugboat
plowed with its capricious burden to the direction of Den Helder. Straight against the
wind , that over the ship and along
the legs on the platform raged. Between the rearing Serviceman and the drifting
platform hung the heavy towing-wire in a deceptive lazy curve. Thetow progress slow- but
steadily. Serious difficulties had not be shown yet, but with the minute it became more
difficult to keep the plunging platform under control. The sea became more roughly and the
wind increased till gale force 7 - 8. On Saturday 24 August about noon, captain
Alfred Varley reached the hight of Callantsoog. So far there were no problems , but about
15.00 pm strikes the fate. On august 24, the tow wire to the drilling platform had parted
and her charge was drifting ever closer to the Dutch coast in the gale force winds.
Captain Varley, knew the danger, whitch the shipping could experience of the drifting drilling platform, and gave his wireless operator order to send a T.T.T. message for ships in the neighbourhood .
When wireless operator Jack van der Berg, who was at his post in the head office of Wijsmuller at IJmuiden, heard this message, he reacted immediately. He informed the chief off duty and his colleague Hein van Putten who must came to the office to take his place, took his bag with some clothes, razor and shaving brush and sprinted the thirty yards to the salvage tug Simson. At 15.15 pm, Captain Arie van der Wiele and his men were of the harbour, full speed to the position of the Hubinsel IV, 15 miles from the coast near Petten.
Arie van der Wiele, who has allready served the company for eighteen years, and earn his four golden stripes not behind the stove with mother, stood in the wheele-house of his plunging tugboat, and peer with half squeezed eyes trough the with water covered windows. 'This become a heavy job, boys!. Through the bad weather their towing rope has broken, and now we must clear the thing'. In the meanwhile, in the small radio-cabin of the rolling Simson, wireless operator van den Berg tried to get contact with the Serviceman.
rechts: Captain Arie van der Wiele at the wheel-house of the Simson
Late Saturday afternoon near the lightship Texel
the Simson approached the drifting Hubinsel-4 and the Serviceman
. Because the Serviceman didn't send an emergency-call, but only a T.T.T.
message, Captain van de Wiele reported his presence to Captain Varley of the Serviceman ,
and stayed in the vicinity throughout the night, his offer of help has been declined.
Captain Varley however was deeply in his seamans-heart happy, to know his Dutch colleague
was around, because he didn't have any spare towing ropes, in spite of the many requests
to his company and his drilling platform was drifting far away to the north east.
Time after time he past the platform very closely to try to pick up the part of the broken towing wire which was stil connected to the platform, but the high waves and furious south wester didn't gave him a chanche.
Captain van der Wiele couldend do anything but sailing around the drifting platform. As long colleague Varley gave no permission for assistance of the Simson, the only thing they could was look on.
At 08.30 pm, also the tugboat Nestor arrived at the scene, the Wijsmuller direction gave also order to Captain Guus Perisutti to see the course of events. 'how tings are going, Arie?' he asked his colleague on the Simson. Fine, Guus, there's running a rough sea as you see, but everything is o.k. overe here!' 'What's the intention?' 'There's no intention for the present'.
In the meantime the Serviceman kept trying to pick-up her broken tow wire . Taken the risk to be trowed on the four-legged steel colossus the tug came continuously very closed near the platform, but without any succes. Everytime as it went wrong, Captain Varley must have feel a sting to the heart. He must have abused these 'damned Dutchmen' who waiting there as vultures to their prey. He must have cursed his company, which send him out to the sea without adequate equipment, and angry to himself, because he accepted this.
The stormy wind blow the yellow platform with her hundred feet high poles to the coast. At the moment the tow rope broke, the position of the platform was 15 miles west of Petten, but six hours later the distance was decreased more than one half. At 10.30 pm there was about 6 miles between the running platform and the northern coast of Holland. The Brit fought for his tow and reputation.
At 01.30 that night the Hubinsel-4 was only 3 miles away from grounding.
Captain van der Wiele asked his wireless operator to tell Captain Varley, that if he wait any longer he could find his platform on the beach of Texel the next day, but Varley answered he would wait till daylight.
At 02.00 am, when less than a mile seperated the platform from the coast, van de Berg send his last message to the Serviceman , 'If you don't take action now your tow will grounding' - 'I wait till day light' - 'O.K. do you agreed we have a try?' 'What you want to do is up to you'
der Wiele knew enough, and decided to act. In the full fury of the gale, he brought the
Simson close to the platform and some of his crew jumped on board the drifting platform
and, together with their mates on board the tug, succeeded in making a towing connection.
The Platform was under control again, connected with a 4"steel forerunner, changed to
the 12" nylon hawser which was connected to the 5"steel towing wire of the
The pressure of the waiting and making the towing connection made place for a released feeling of magnanimity. 'The man was pure down of his luck, he coulden't do a thing', this could happened to anyone, say it yourself'. Is there some coffee? the coock came with hot soup, and everybody was satisfied.
At 02.15 am at the dark, rough Northsea, half a mile from the Koog, slowly the platform was pulled away from the coast by the Simson , whose crew earned themselves lavish praise for superb seamanship. But the job was not cleared yet, the platform hung to one site and was skimming on every wave. The Nestor connected at portside of the platform , and both tugs had a better control of the platform now.
In the background the lights of the Serviceman were shining gloomy, half a day of bitter disappointment has past for them.
photo on the right: some of the crew has jumped over, and connecting the towing wire of the Simson
The crew of the Nestor making connection with the Hubinsel-4
The journey back was an agony. he towing wires hold out, but the fury of the gale, the high seas and the counter-current asked a lot of the seamanship and patience of the crews. The whole sunday they were dragging their yawing tow along the Dutch coast.When the night fell, and the storm rised to galeforce 8 and more, both captains decided not to go furder. About 7 miles from IJmuiden they put the tugs about and ride at the wind, without proceeding. Time to sleep there wasn't that night, the sea was raging and the platform 'that annoying thing!' was jerking on the tow wires.
The Simson and Nestor dragging the platform to IJmuiden
Monday morning about nine oçlock the Stentor
came to assist the transport by entering the, 220 yard broad entrance of the harbour,
and on Monday 26th of August at 13.45 am the Hubinsel-4 was towed safely into
IJmuiden. The same afternoon the wind has dropped and the sea abete.
The Simson and Stentor went back to the pier in front off the headoffice at Sluisplein 34, and the harbour tugs Assistent and Cornelis Willem brought the valuable platform of three million German mark trough the locks to the innerharbour, where after a while also the Serviceman moored alongside her tow. Captain Alfred Varley praised the Dutch for their achievment, then he retreat to his cabin, he also has been for fifty hours in harness, and very tired.
A couple of days later he could leave IJmuiden, wereafter the transport arrived safely at Southampton, a precarious adventuere has ended.