The Writings of Ingrid Pitt

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Mutiny on the Stina Sapoo

It was all going so well! Big plans, some knowledgeable shipmates, well financed - and then a lawyer wanted to join the happy crew and ............
Rochester Dry Dock

The dry dock at Rochester. Ingrid on deck getting excited about her forthcoming life on the ocean wave.

I had a call from an old sea faring friend recently. He was quite excited and wanted to share his news with me. A friend of his had told him about a sloop which was being practically given away to whoever wanted it. And he wanted it. It was lying in dry dock at Rochester after being salvaged from the bottom of the Medway just outside the harbour walls. What quickened my interest was the fact that it had been one of the ships in the nautical soap, Onedine Line. And it had an intriguing name - The Stina Sapoo. How it got to be lying in six fathoms of dirty water in the harbour mouth is an interesting story.

When Tom Adams was told to pack his skin tight jodhpurs and depart at the end of the series the ship was sold off to a bloke who ran a business dealing in light fittings. He had minimal sailing experience but had been brought up on stories of Westward Ho! and striding the poop deck a la Amyas Leigh. So the newly laurelled captain decided to nip up the channel and show some mates his new acquisition. The ship had been configured for the needs of the cast and crew of the series. Not for any serious deep water derring-do. Instead of the usual sea toilets ordinary flush toilets had been fitted. There was also the problem of the bowsprit and the figurehead of the buxom lady. These jutted out in front around twenty feet or so. The combination of these two elements and the inexpertise of its self appointed skipper spelled disaster. The water was a little choppy as the ship approached the harbour. Its newly installed heavy duty diesel engines pounded away as the skipper lined up the ship on the gap in the harbour wall. A cross wind and a choppy sea had the long bowsprit scribing huge figures of eight as it approached the opening in the harbour wall. The soon to be ex-owner of the Stina Sapoo tried to anticipate the gyrations of the bowsprit and for a fleeting moment thought he had worked the oracle and slipped the camel through the eye of the wall. Sadly it was not to be. At the end of the harbour wall stood a solitary, slender lamp post. Somehow the weaving sprit managed to hit the post dead centre - which swung the hull into the wall. Which in ordinary circumstances would have resulted in nothing more than a yard or two of paint being scraped off. But remember the flush toilets? They weren’t built to reject the surge of water which shot up the outflow as the ship rode up the wall. The toilets acted like hosepipes and sprayed hundreds of gallons on water into the interior in seconds The more the water poured in, the lower the stricken vessel sank. The lower it sank the more water poured in. Within minutes the ship sank to the bottom. Interestingly across the entrance to the harbour. Because of its position the rescue teams turned out immediately, raised the ship and towed it to dry dock. Where the wrangling started.

Stina Sapoo Cabin

The 'cabin' of the Stina Sapoo.

When a ship is abandoned at sea anyone securing her can claim Salvage. But this, strictly speaking, wasn’t what had happened to the Stina Sapoo. Was it within the harbour where it would still be the property of the owner and he would have the honour of paying the bills? Or was it outside the walls where it would become the property of whoever raised her? That hadn’t been settled. Hence the asking price of £5,000. And my mate John’s insistence on going down and having a look at it with the idea of chancing our arm and maybe ending up with a beautiful 150 foot vessel to perk up our weekends. I caught the excitement and found myself striding the deck of the mud covered craft on a bitterly cold Saturday morning in March. John had brought Peter along. I had had some sailing adventures in the channel with Peter before. He had a thirty footer which always looked like a negligent gipsy’s water borne caravan. It also had a massive one-stroke engine. The last time I had seen Peter his boat had been lying on its side in Poole harbour on a sand bank with police launches trying to get him afloat. At a crucial moment Peter had started his lugubrious motor and rammed the police launch doing considerable damage. That didn’t deter Peter and he still loved sailing. After the Poole affair he told me solemnly that he hadn’t done anything wrong - things just happened. John had also persuaded Peter to consider taking a slice of the Stina.

Inside was magic. The holds had been scooped out and decorated as a salon.Through the mud half seen murals on the wall promised cleaned up erotica. The deck head was held up by huge, bare-breasted statues of goddesses. Velvet and gilt seats lined the walls and there was an interesting pile of bits and pieces that the salvage boys had discarded. Typically the deck was huge but the galley practically non-existent. That had to be addressed if the lads idea of weekend rave-ups was to come to fruition. The engine room was all an engine room should be. Peter was particularly enthusiastic. An enthusiasm which wasn’t dinted when he rush in, skidded on the deep layer of mud and disappeared in the slimy, oil rich water beneath the diesels. I loved the masts. To encompass it three of us had to grasp hands around it at full stretch. And the wheelhouse. If you are into wheelhouses this was enough to make you slaver. I could already see myself negotiating the outer walls of Monaco harbour and enjoying the Grand Prix from a deck chair on the quarter deck.When Peter said he was up for the gamble I gave a show of reluctance before saying that I was in.

John was left to do the business. He’s an accountant and has sailed the seven seas in boats of all descriptions. Which now came in handy. Talking to the Harbour Master at Chichester he found another wannabe ship owner. That made five. John, Peter, Tonio, the Harbour Master and me. A Grand apiece for the adventure of a life time.

Then the other shoe dropped. A barrister friend heard about our plot to become maritime and wanted in. Wonderful. Stina was going to cost a bundle to restore and the more who wanted to play ship mate the better. Unfortunately, as I said, he was a barrister. So he began to look at the paperwork. If you want an adventure do not look at the paperwork. He came back with all sorts of problems. Not least was the disputed ownership. We tried to explain that that was the fun of the gamble but he wasn’t having any. The more he droned on about the risks, the more the mud came to the fore and the velvet and gilt faded. Even Peter began to have second thoughts. I was still sold on the idea and so were John and the Harbour Master. Tonio would go along with anything I wanted. Then our friendly Harbour Master had the wind taking out of his sails by someone whispering in his ear that the Stina was Salvage and therefore owned by the company which had raised her. And they were looking for a lot more than the £5,000 we had offered. In the end we all had to agree that perhaps it wasn’t worth the hassle. John tried to soften the blow by saying that there were always great bargains coming up and he would keep his eyes open. I wasn’t interested in any other boat. I had fallen deeply in love with the muddy old Stina Sapoo.

I checked up on what had happened to her some time later and was told by a member of the Medway Ports Authority that she was “in a sinking condition.” What a waste. And what an end to a wonderful dream.

Motoring & Leisure - 5th September 2006

The Writings of Ingrid Pitt