Brixham Heritage Boat Crew Danger Mission

07:00 20 February 2022

Hooray and the higher she goes has taken on a whole new meaning for the crew of a famous Brixham heritage trawler.

Gerry Scutt, who was in charge of the dangerous mission aboard Vigilance BM76, left no doubt of the disaster that would follow if things went wrong as they lowered the giant mast of the boat for a maintenance overhaul.

Gerry Scutt who orchestrated the whole operation

– Credit: Trevor Taylor

Gerry warned the assembled maintenance team: “If the top mast falls while being hoisted, it will pierce the deck like a harpoon and won’t stop until it goes through the bottom of the boat. “

He focused everyone’s mind.

Vigilance, the last Brixham sailing trawler to be built at the famous Uphams shipyard in 1926, underwent extensive maintenance this winter.

One of the most complicated and dangerous operations involved the upper mast which sits atop the main mast. It is solid Douglas fir, 32 feet long and weighs over half a ton.

The crew manhandles the half-ton topmast ready to be raised.

The crew manhandles the half-ton topmast ready to be raised.

– Credit: Trevor Taylor

Every two years it must be lowered under carefully controlled conditions. This took place in October 2021 and after a thorough check and some routine maintenance it was hoisted into the air to sit atop the 50ft main mast.

It is a delicate operation that requires great precision, meticulous maneuvers and a lot of manpower.

John Izon and Mick Bowman discuss tactics

John Izon and Mick Bowman discuss tactics.

– Credit: Trevor Talor

A team of 10 made up of trained and experienced Vigilance volunteers undertook the essential task. Two crew members, Richard Boyles and Peter Chrystie spent several hours atop the main mast while the others carefully raised the top mast from the deck to an upright position.

Richard Boyles perched atop the mainmast of the Vigilance

Richard Boyles perched atop the main mast.
– Credit: Trevor Taylor

It was lifted vertically 50 feet in the air to its resting position atop the main mast where the one-inch-thick steel cable supports, the shrouds, were attached.

The whole operation took four and a half hours and was meticulously planned by Gerry.

Safety was paramount with the mast and men having safety lines – just in case. The top mast is only lowered every two years so the crew doesn’t practice much, but the experience gained each time adds to the knowledge accumulated over the years.
The top mast was raised without a hitch and now Vigilance is once again ready to take local residents and visitors on tours around Tor Bay this summer.

There is an open day on Saturday 19th February when Vigilance will be on the heritage pontoon in Brixham Harbour. Everyone is welcome to go around the boat.

Passenger sails start on Sunday 10th April and bookings are now open on the Vigilance website

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