A seafaring mystery

A SHETLAND islander has contacted The Journal to ask if any Lowestoft nautical historians can help him discover more about his grandfather and a ship called Launch Out.

A SHETLAND islander has contacted The Journal to ask if any Lowestoft nautical historians can help him discover more about his grandfather and a ship called Launch Out.

John Watt is appealing for help in his quest to piece together his family history as he tries to uncover more about his grandfather's branch of the tree.

John is named after his grandfather but until a couple of years ago knew little about his namesake. His parents had discouraged him from developing a seafaring interest, and by the time he was in his teens his dad, Alexander John Watt, had died. This meant that the only knowledge he had of his grandfather was that he was a fisherman who went on to serve in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in the 1930s.

On further investigation he discovered his grandfather was Lerwick's first RNLI coxswain and was involved with the crew until 1939, five years before his death. Before that he had skippered drifters both prior to and after the first world war.

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“But this part of our family history is very puzzling because we have no such evidence of his pre-first world war vessel,” said Mr Watt. “Previous generations of our family were all told of a version that said Grandfather's drifter was the Tea Rose (BF 330), but he did not have his name on the owner's list for that vessel until much later. Other drifters with Grandfather's name on the owners list were Grey Sky and Retrieve but, again, both vessels were much later on.”

He decided to check through old newspapers on microfilm at his local library in Shetland to see if he could find out any information relating to his grandfather before the war.

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He found that, in 1914, the Shetland herring season finished early, while Lowestoft's season ran from October to December and that a drifter named Launch Out

(LT344) had been in waters off the Suffolk coast.

Mr Watt believes this boat could have been navigated by his grand-father as his family has had links with Lowestoft Herring Drifters & Co and his father also had a white fishing boat called Launch Out.

Tracing the history of this drifter has been difficult for Mr Watt, although he has discovered that HM Launch Out was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1915 before being sunk by German destroyers in the Straits of Dover in 1916. Through appeals for information he has also managed to discover that LT344 Launch Out was a wooden steam drifter built in 1909 and that she became disabled when picking up survivors from the steam drifter Fraternal and was towed home by LT395 Garrigill.

“I believe that he wasn't on the Launch Out during the vessel's period in RNR service but that he either attempted to, or actually purchased, the vessel late in 1914 and was involved in the Fraternal rescue,” Mr Watt said.

He ultimately hopes to obtain a copy of her log book for 1912-1914.

Anyone who can help Mr Watt with his quest can email him at mugglewump@hotmail.com. And do let The Journal know too.

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