1958 – the Nyon

The Nyon – photograph by The Illustrated London News, 29 November 1958

The Nyon was a Swiss 4,950 tonne motor vessel. On 17th November 1958, she struck Meg Watson’s Rock near Fast Castle, en route from Leith to Dakar. All the crew were saved.

You can see a British Pathe News video of the Nyon here, and also here.

The Berwickshire News reported the full story on 20 November 1958.


For five days, the Swiss merchant ship Nyon has been firmly wedged on the jagged Meg Watson Rocks near St Abbs, on which she ran aground in dense fog on Saturday. Three attempts to re-float her have ended in failure, and with the tides receding, the longer the ship remains aground, the more difficult it will be to move her. It was confirmed last night that she had settled down forward since she originally ran into trouble.

Because of a heavy swell last night, no effort was made to pull the merchantman off the rocks. As she stands just now, the Nyon – gross tonnage 5,058 according to Lloyd’s register – and the 33 men on board her, are in no great danger. But every hour she stays aground makes the chances less.

The St Abbs lifeboat and three tugs were again standing by last night after the captain of the Nyon signalled for immediate aid. The signal was received by the coastguard station at Seahouses and flashed to the St Abbs lifeboat secretary, Mr Alex Nisbet. Five minutes after the signal was received the lifeboat crew were on the way. The St. Abbs life-saving team was also called out and five volunteers and three coastguards were on duty on the cliff tops last night. The lifeboat crew returned home at 2.20 a.m. after their duty. The third attempt to refloat the vessel was made this morning between nine and ten, at high tide.

Since Sunday morning, fishermen from Eyemouth and St Abbs have ferried tons of cement to the stranded Nyon. Every day the lifeboat ‘W Ross Mac Arthur of Glasgow’ has been standing close by. Almost every day, coastguards and volunteer members of the life-saving crew have been maintaining vigil on the cliff-tops with breeches buoy equipment rigged up.

On board the Swiss ship, she is registered at Bale, there has been constant activity. Two forward holds filled up rapidly with water when four gaping holes were ripped in her as she grounded against the rocks on Saturday night. Every day, the crew have been manning the pumps. But their task has been a tough one, for the pumps have been inadequate to deal with the sea water which pours in through the holes every high tide.

To date, 30 tons of cement have been unloaded on to the Nyon. Some of it has been lowered down by breeches buoy. Most of it has been taken from the Eyemouth fishing vessel ‘Emulate’. Skippered by a St Abbs man, Alistair Wilson, she has braved the near-shore hazards to deliver the vital cement which has been used to plug the holes.

On Tuesday, every grocer’s shop in Eyemouth and St Abbs was asked to send washing soda along to help the cement to harden more quickly in this battle to save a comparatively new vessel. Yesterday, more cement and some 200 gallons petrol were ready to be shipped out to the Nyon. For the gaps are still not completely sealed, and the petrol is needed to run the additional pumping equipment brought yesterday by the tugs after a special run to Leith.

For many hours on Tuesday, breeches buoy contact was established. It had been maintained throughout Saturday night and Sunday as well, after the volunteers had been called out. The first rocket fired by Mr W. W. Wilson, of St Abbs, landed right on the ship’s deck – a remarkable achievement. District Officer S. Harbottle, of Seahouses, who was in charge of the Coastguard operations, told us:

“It was a first-class shot. We rigged up the breeches buoy in case of emergency and we continued our vigil right through the night. bad been told that there was little danger to the crew at the time, but in such weather anything could have happened. It is a remarkable thing, but only that afternoon I had been up at St. Abbs giving the life-saving crew a thorough practice. As I left, I said to them, “There’s fog coming in. You’d better be on your toes.” I was just home when the call came that the Nyon was aground.”

The Nyon had left Leith Docks on Saturday afternoon, sailing light for Dakar in North Africa. She had not gone very far when she ran into the fog, cutting sea visibility right down. And just before eight o’clock on Saturday night she radioed Cullercoats to say she was on the rocks, holed and making water fast. She gave her position as just north of St Abbs Head. Within a few minutes, the St Abbs lifeboat was launched and the volunteer life-saving crew had linked up with Coastguards to make their way through the fog to go to the assistance of the ship.

On Sunday, the Tyne tugs ‘Beamish’ and ‘King George V’ arrived. They made their first attempt at high tide on the same evening, but the Nyon did not budge. The following day, a Dutch tug with specialised equipment also arrived. She joined Monday’s attempt, but still the holed ship stayed where she was, cradled between solid rock. A further attempt was made yesterday morning, but once more failed, and increasing swell ruled out hopes of a further bid after dark.

Throughout the long and difficult series of rescue bids the crew have stayed on board. Yesterday, most of their personal belongings were taken off and are now stored in Berwick. The breeches buoy equipment has been rigged up. and the lifeboat was ready to take men off if they wanted to leave. But everyone decided to remain on board, where there are ample provisions.

Skipper Jim Wilson of the St Abbs lifeboat told us last night,

“The men are in no danger at the present time and they won’t be as long as the wind stays in the west. Once it veers round to sweep in from the sea, the ship could be in trouble. As she lies just now, I don’t think there is much likelihood of her sinking, but any change in the weather would alter things completely. We have been on duty every day since the Nyon ran aground, and we’ve lost count of the hours we have been sea. In fact, we have got to the stage where we hardly dare go to sleep in case we are needed. It is the longest spell that we have been constantly on the alert that I can recall.’’

Skipper Wilson confirmed that the “Emulate” had been advised not to go in with cement and other equipment yesterday because of the swell. And he also revealed that the Eyemouth boat had sustained some damage in her first trip the Nyon. Today, divers will probably go under the hull of the Nyon at high water, and work has already started on another plan to free the ship from the notorious rocks. Men have begun chipping away at the solid stone to make things easier for the ship once she begins to slide clear.

On Friday, the tides begin to ‘make’ once more, and unless the weather deteriorates, chances then would be brighter. Now, at low tide, the Nyon lies firmly jammed between two pinnacles of rock, her bows high above the water, and even her propellor clear of the sea. Since Monday, she has settled further down at the bows.

The saga of the Nyon has brought its tales of devotion and kindness. The Coastguards and life-savers watching from the cliffs barely 100 yards from the stranded ship. The women of St Abbs who have provided hot tea and soup for the rescue men. Farm workers who made repeated visits with equipment. And the crew of the Emulate risking danger to land the essential stores. But above all the lifeboatmen, going out to sea in all kinds of weather to be on call in case of necessity.

If the Nyon is refloated and she stands up to the seas, she will be towed to the Tyne. If she is in danger, she will be beached on Coldingham Sands.

The Berwick Advertiser, Thursday 20 November 1958

The Illustrated London News printed this summary of the story on 29th November 1958 with the photograph above:

On the night of Saturday, November 15, the Swiss cargo ship Nyon grounded hard on the rocks of Meg Watson, near St Abbs Head, on the Berwickshire coast. Nyon is one of the only two steamships in the Swiss Merchant Navy. Weighing 9500 tons, she was cradled on rocks below sheer cliffs during a journey between Leith and Dakar. She rammed the rocks during a thick mist, and was holed in both bows and damaged amidships. During the early part of last week the crew of thirty-three were trying to plug the holes with tons of cement landed on Nyon from a fishing-boat. On the night of November 19, Captain Fredrich Klein, of Nyon, signalled for immediate aid and three tugs and the St. Abbs lifeboat stood by: a heavy swell had buckled and breached the hull of Nyon. Later Captain Klein asked for the lifeboat to take his personal baggage, some of the ship’s papers and the crew’s gear ashore. Experts then feared that Nyon would become a total loss. At the end of last week they were suggesting that the ship might have to be cut in half. Mr. Alex Nisbet, secretary of the St. Abbs lifeboat, said, “The fore part of the ship is doomed.”

Illustrated London News, Saturday 29 November 1958

A further drama occurred when the cameraman John Charles Everest fell from the cliffs above the Nyon as he was photographing the coastguards as they attempted a rescue.

Eventually the rear section was cut off and towed to Rotterdam. The remaining front part was detroyed by the sea in situ.

This picture of half the ship on the way to Rotterdam appeared in The Sphere on Saturday 14 February 1959.

This British Pathe News reel video shows the Nyon being towed to Rotterdam, and this News reel shows her being reconstructed there.

The Nyon sank in a collision with a German ship near Beachy Head on 15th June 1962.

There are further articles about the salvage operations to add to this post in due course.


1 thought on “1958 – the Nyon

  1. Margaret Paterson remembers: “My family lived at Dowlaw farm at the time of this incident. On the night in question the farmer called out all the farmworkers to find out where the ship was she was found just by Fast Castle. Over the following days there were onlookers, car loads and bus loads of visitors to the farm all looking for the ship. The custom and excise man from St Abbs was a frequent visitor to make sure that no one plundered anything washed up from the ship. My mother had a lovely green carpet, a round porthole glass which she had made into a table, and a brass key which I handed into Eyemouth museum. Other workers from the farm had lots of keepsakes.”

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